Does keeping America free from harm in the post-9/11 world require that Americans surrender their Fourth Amendment rights? The country’s security apparatus behaves as if the answer is yes—the subject of this official report to President Barack Obama.
Headed by Clarke, of weapons of mass destruction renown, the president’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies allows that the National Security Agency is tasked, first and foremost, with protecting the country from harm at foreign hands—or, in ominous officialese, “protecting the homeland.” Given that our terrorist enemies, to say nothing of states such as China and Russia, have ample cyber assets, the key is to use technology to analyze signals intelligence while keeping the NSA’s eyes on the bad guys instead of the rest of us. Instead, by this report’s account—to say nothing of the preceding revelations by whistle-blower Edward Snowden—the NSA’s approach has been to drink the water from the fire hose, without regard for privacy rights. Early on in the report, therefore, the PRG recommends, “[a]ny program involving government collection or storage of such data must be narrowly tailored to serve an important government interest.” So who determines what’s important? Presumably the president, although the head of the NSA surely has an important voice in the matter—leading to another recommendation: that the NSA be headed by a military officer. The final recommendation among this set of nearly four dozen is rather pale, recommending the use of cost-benefit analysis and other tools to find out what’s working, which leads one to wonder what the folks at Fort Meade are using instead.
Fascinating insight—though much must be read between the lines—into how the nation’s data-mining apparatus works—and how it’s supposed to work.