Today the NYT reports that the NSA began intruding on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter in 2010, in a policy shift that allowed the agency to conduct “large-scale graph analysis on very large sets of communications metadata without having to check foreignness” of each email address or phone number or other identifier. According to authors James Risen and Laura Poitras (collaborator with Greenwald and subject of a recent NYT Sunday Magazine cover story), “because of concerns about infringing on the privacy of American citizens, the computer analysis of such data had previously been permitted only for foreigners.” This expansion of surveillance was done without any review by the intelligence court, according to the authors.
The Times has such an understated, seemingly blase way of sharing the scariest information. I would say the NSA is stepping all over our Blue Suede Shoes. Granted that we may never know about some plots that have been foiled by NSA analysis of social networks, this story seems yet another confirmation that the surveillance state has been operating beyond any effective review.
The giant tech companies implicated in this story cannot be happy about the business risk and uncertainty public disclosure of (at least some of) the reach of the NSA has caused them. How far can or will Google, Facebook, Apple, et al go up against the NSA and its corporate and government allies? They are perhaps the best hope for a check on the surveillance state, given that they know, or should, how quickly a damaged tech brand can disappear into liquidation. Google could care less if the NSA is evil, Facebook didn’t mind either, but when the National Security Agency moves so fast it breaks things like Facebook’s business model, then the corporate overlords in Silicon Valley might have a problem they can’t afford to ignore.
Would it be too pessimistic to think the NSA does not care about a government shutdown or even a bond default because they will just keep going by selling their data in secret?
- NSA has, as the paranoids warned us, been studying the social ties of Americans through our data (boingboing.net)
- NSA employee spied on nine women without detection, internal memo shows | World news | theguardian.com (theguardian.com)
- NSA has studied citizens’ social ties since 2010 (marketwatch.com)
- The Social Network, NSA style – Afternoon roundup (washingtonmonthly.com)