Big Government's Data Plan

Cindy Simpson
With the shocking revelation that the NSA is collecting all Verizon phone records under a secret court order, we can now begin to understand why that same agency is in need of the massive new data center in Utah.

Fox News's Catherine Herridge broke the story this April about the construction of the NSA's huge "spy center," capable of amassing, housing, and analyzing five zettabytes of data.  (For context, according to Wikipedia, as of 2009, the entire World Wide Web was estimated to contain a half of one zettabyte.)

Writing about the Verizon order at The Volokh Conspiracy, Orin Kerr noted a troubling aspect of a provision of the Patriot Act that has apparently been interpreted as allowing not just relevant individual records, but also entire databases to be collected as part of a national security investigation or threat assessment:

Section 1861 says that the "things" that are collected must be relevant ...but it says nothing about the scope of the things obtained. When dealing with a physical object, we naturally treat relevance on an object-by-object basis. Sets of records are different. If Verizon has a database containing records of billions of phone calls made by millions of customers, is that database a single thing, millions of things, or billions of things?...If the entire massive database has a single record that is relevant, does that make the entire database relevant, too? The statute doesn't directly answer that, it seems to me. But certainly it's surprising -- and troubling -- if the Section 1861 relevance standard is being interpreted at the database-by-database level.

Also, as Kerr notes, if the NSA is "getting all of those call records, what else are they getting? If they have an order for phone calls, they could also have it for e-mails and other electronic records. This could be just one order among many."

According to Herridge, many questions about NSA's new center have gone unanswered as "classified" and "secret."  She wrote:

Fellow NSA whistleblower Bill Binney, who worked at the NSA for nearly four decades, says it's about the possibility that the government's stunning new capacity to collect, store and analyze data could be abused. "It's really a -- turnkey situation, where it could be turned quickly and become a totalitarian state pretty quickly," he said. "The capacities to do that is being set up. Now it's a question of if we get the wrong person in office, or if certain people set up their network internally in government, they could make that happen quickly."

Other related and troubling revelations over the past few months: the IRS can read your e-mails without a warrant, the DHS routinely monitors social media, and the "U.S. government and law enforcement agencies are increasingly asking Google to hand over data on its customers."  New programs such as the Common Core standards and the Affordable Care Act will amass even more information.

A previous American Thinker column outlined our government's increasing appetite for data on its citizens, providing the capability for a sort of electronic omniscience that would make Big Brother envious.

If these types of data accumulation continue unchecked, having our bodies patted down in airport security lines will seem like child's play compared to having most every detail, action, and word recorded then collected in a giant warehouse, always available for examination under a government microscope.

As former NSA employee Thomas Drake told Herridge, "[t]he only way you can have perfect security is have a perfect surveillance state. That's George Orwell. That's 1984. That's what that would look like."

With the shocking revelation that the NSA is collecting all Verizon phone records under a secret court order, we can now begin to understand why that same agency is in need of the massive new data center in Utah.

Fox News's Catherine Herridge broke the story this April about the construction of the NSA's huge "spy center," capable of amassing, housing, and analyzing five zettabytes of data.  (For context, according to Wikipedia, as of 2009, the entire World Wide Web was estimated to contain a half of one zettabyte.)

Writing about the Verizon order at The Volokh Conspiracy, Orin Kerr noted a troubling aspect of a provision of the Patriot Act that has apparently been interpreted as allowing not just relevant individual records, but also entire databases to be collected as part of a national security investigation or threat assessment:

Section 1861 says that the "things" that are collected must be relevant ...but it says nothing about the scope of the things obtained. When dealing with a physical object, we naturally treat relevance on an object-by-object basis. Sets of records are different. If Verizon has a database containing records of billions of phone calls made by millions of customers, is that database a single thing, millions of things, or billions of things?...If the entire massive database has a single record that is relevant, does that make the entire database relevant, too? The statute doesn't directly answer that, it seems to me. But certainly it's surprising -- and troubling -- if the Section 1861 relevance standard is being interpreted at the database-by-database level.

Also, as Kerr notes, if the NSA is "getting all of those call records, what else are they getting? If they have an order for phone calls, they could also have it for e-mails and other electronic records. This could be just one order among many."

According to Herridge, many questions about NSA's new center have gone unanswered as "classified" and "secret."  She wrote:

Fellow NSA whistleblower Bill Binney, who worked at the NSA for nearly four decades, says it's about the possibility that the government's stunning new capacity to collect, store and analyze data could be abused. "It's really a -- turnkey situation, where it could be turned quickly and become a totalitarian state pretty quickly," he said. "The capacities to do that is being set up. Now it's a question of if we get the wrong person in office, or if certain people set up their network internally in government, they could make that happen quickly."

Other related and troubling revelations over the past few months: the IRS can read your e-mails without a warrant, the DHS routinely monitors social media, and the "U.S. government and law enforcement agencies are increasingly asking Google to hand over data on its customers."  New programs such as the Common Core standards and the Affordable Care Act will amass even more information.

A previous American Thinker column outlined our government's increasing appetite for data on its citizens, providing the capability for a sort of electronic omniscience that would make Big Brother envious.

If these types of data accumulation continue unchecked, having our bodies patted down in airport security lines will seem like child's play compared to having most every detail, action, and word recorded then collected in a giant warehouse, always available for examination under a government microscope.

As former NSA employee Thomas Drake told Herridge, "[t]he only way you can have perfect security is have a perfect surveillance state. That's George Orwell. That's 1984. That's what that would look like."