NSA and law enforcement should buy the data they need

NSA and law enforcement should buy the data they need

Summary: There's no need for secret courts and wiretaps when there's a large commercial market selling detailed information on hundreds of millions of individual Internet users.

TOPICS: Big Data
Restore The Fourth rally in San Francisco
"Restore the Fourth" rally in San Francisco protesting NSA surveillance of US citizens.


Declan McCullagh, the Chief Political correspondent for CNET, reports that the NSA can force tech firms to comply with demands for real-time data on their users because the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act provides them with legal rights to install their own gear inside their data centers.

How the U.S. is forcing Internet firms' hands on surveillance | Politics and Law - CNET News

Those devices, the companies fear, could disrupt operations, introduce security vulnerabilities, or intercept more than is legally permitted.

"Nobody wants it on-premises," said a representative of a large Internet company who has negotiated surveillance requests with government officials. "Nobody wants a box in their network... [Companies often] find ways to give tools to minimize disclosures, to protect users, to keep the government off the premises, and to come to some reasonable compromise on the capabilities."

It's tough to fight such demands because there are several legal precedents, such as when Earthlink lost a legal battle to stop the FBI from installing its "Carnivore" surveillance system within its networks. 

Foremski's Take: 

US tech giants have been surveilling their users for years. That's what they mean by "Big Data" and it feeds a huge industry where that data is sold and used in real-time. That's how ad networks know what ads to serve in the milliseconds it takes to load a page.

It's commonly known as "contextual advertising."  But the "context" isn't what's on the page, the context is who is looking at that page.

I'm sure you've noticed those sticky ads, the ones that follow you around the Internet. For example, I was seeing adverts for Tai Chi DVDs and books on numerous web sites for weeks because I had visited a Tai Chi site and clicked around for a bit. 

Advertising networks detect when and where you are online and your physical location. In the instant it takes to load a page they analyze all the data they have about you and serve up an appropriate ad. They log the event and update their personalized dossier with any additional information. 

In that regard, spy agencies and advertisers are essentially the same. They are both interested in real-time data about a specific person. It doesn't matter that one is trying to sell you a watch, while the other one just wants to watch -- the process is the same. 

Imagine if the NSA built an advertising network as a cover and bought access to the same real-time data that advertising networks use. It would be able to collect a lot of valuable data without needing to argue its case in secret courts.

It would have real-time login and other information, it could also drop a super-cookie or key-logger onto a target's computer.

It could even serve up contextual adverts: where to find hard-to-get combustible materials; or difficult to source equipment such as high-speed centrifuges. It would be perfect for sting operations.

But the government agencies should buy the data instead of demanding the right to take it. It's not that expensive and the data brokers will sort it and package it – saving them from having to filter and process the firehose of data from their own equipment installed on-site. 

Topic: Big Data

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  • no!

    that would break the law! no one would check and agree with that purpose! that's completely different!
    I can unsubscribe from every mkt! us gov is simply rotten that want to just control people..... terrorist use cyphered communication for sure so the sneaking has a different purpose...... just to control the power
    • No you can't.

      You are the product. As long as you are online, your actions are monitored by data aggregators. They work for the same people who hold sway over our government. The government is not the issue-- it's the the people who control 1.2 quadrillion dollars of derivatives that have the power. Weakening governments makes them stronger relative to us.
      • :)

        you still don't understand the difference between govs and companies, right?
  • It's not like Bin Laden posted on Facebook or Google+

    Sometimes secret surveillance is necessary.
    • If it was today

      Today, he would. These were just not so widespread back then.
  • which points to a bigger problem

    That citizens (and I choose that word over consumers or users) have no control over their information, who can access it, or for what purpose and with no feedback as to who is accessing it or why.
    • Agreed.

      Agreed, and that's the elephant in the room that people like Tom don't want to deal with. Doesn't really matter if it's government or business - people have very little control over how their information is used.
  • Imagining

    "Imagine if ... it could also drop a super-cookie or key-logger onto a target's computer."

    Didn't I get the joke or do you seriously think that using money to obtain information on anybody without a warrant would somehow make it less illegal?

    One thing (if I may imagine) that could justify the data collection would be a mandatory national backup service. That is, if a good citizen could go and request a data restore in case the computer broke. Or if a good citizen could be securely reminded of a forgotten password. Totally for everyone's convenience of course, totally, without exception. But no, those who tried it got denied such requests in bulk. This is not a good service, I tell you. This is a black hole of national, no, global proportions, as it actually turns out. Something is not as well designed here as great people have imagined. It seems that the realization of the century and a half (almost to the day) vision of "government of the people by the peole for the people" have mushroomed out of control. And perhaps out of connection with reality, too.
    • Re: vision of "government of the people by the peole for the people"

      This has always been a lie.

      Good to see you fellow US citizens finally woking up.
  • Back to the idiocy

    After a couple of good posts Formeski is back to idiocy.

    The point Tom is that YOU ARE NOT ALLOWED TO HAVE MY PRIVATE DATA unless I give permission.

    I'm not giving it ... and I want anyone who takes it find heavily and imprisoned for frequent violations. And I want DO NOT TRACK enforced in law ... maybe after some surveillance of corporations. Yeah, how about watching the corporations instead of the general public!

    GOOG and advertising are going to suffer. My heart bleeds. Not.

    More privacy. Less advertising.
  • I'm not very fond of "Big Data" etiher.

    "US tech giants have been surveilling their users for years. That's what they mean by 'Big Data' "

    Not sure I'm really fond of that either. It's not for the good of the consumer, because it treats the consumer as merely a number, a statistic. Something to min/max, not something to care about.

    "But the government agencies should buy the data instead of demanding the right to take it."

    Never gonna happen. It's not about whether they should pay for it (even if they did pay for it, they'd get virtually unlimited funding anyways) - its about whether they have the right to do so, period.
    • Actually they pay a lot

      There was a similar less detailed story on NPR but I don't have the patience look for it. Check this though:
  • They should buy the data?

    Folks NAS, any government agency, does not have money. The money you think they have is all confiscated taxpayer money. Saying "...But the government agencies should buy the data instead of demanding the right to take it..." means we citizens are purchasing it. D'oh, I do not want that data, do not want them to have that data.
  • It Isn't Intrusive If It's Helpful

    The NSA is going about this all wrong. And no, the NSA should not have to pay for the info.

    You know that life logging idea? The NSA should have everything I send through a public space. The caveat is, when I lose something, because I have willingly let them have their way, they are now obligated to help me find things.

    That email I just can't find? What did I say the last phone conversation to Ma? I could swear the customer service rep said three days but I don't have a log of that text chat. Where was I last Thursday at 3PM? Who was that cute woman two tables over when I ate out last night, and where does she live and what is her number?

    See how valuable this could be? The NSA should pitch it as the ultimate free backup service in the cloud. Maybe even, to go further, the NSA, now knowing everything about me, could also give me suggestions as my life coach. Mentor me in my career. You know I'm getting a warm and fuzzy feeling about this.
  • INFO

    Not to many problems the government can't make worse!
    preferred user
  • "Imagine if the NSA built an advertising network"

    Are there so many naive people left, who believe the NSA has not done exactly this, years ago?
  • Amazingly few people seems to care about...

    ...the government paying with TAX money! I don't want to be eyed or eared by any representatives paid for with OUR money. Yes, taxes do not belong to someone else, it is our money.
  • vast difference in proposed alternative

    I think that you're comparing apples and oranges in this article. Equating dissimilar processes provides disservice to readers tantamount to disinformation. (we get dissed)

    Advertising NETWORKS that you describe can be blocked through extensions, because they must make cross-site script references to serve you that ad. Sure, they know everything about most typical ignorant users. They know what I choose to allow them to know about me.

    I even block your ads. Suffer imaginary loss - IDC.

    .."legal rights to install their own gear inside their data centers" is something that I cannot simply block with a browser extension. They are ultimately being effective in their tasks, whether you agree with it or not.