Sharing isn’t always Caring – updated

There is a lot of ink being spilled about the reports of the surveillance conducted by the Obama administration of US citizens.

Andrew McCarthy at NRO thinks it’s not that big a deal. The WSJ is unperturbed, and wonders what the fuss is about. I’ve seen some discussion on NANOG suggesting that encryption would be the solution.

I’d like to add a differing perspective. The articles are referring to “metadata”, but the industry term for the type of data being collected is “Customer Proprietary Network Information” (CPNI). Specifically, CPNI includes the call records for a customer. CPNI is regulated by the FCC, and unauthorized use or disclosure of CPNI is a big deal from the point of view from a telco – large fines are involved, and generally there are compliance infrastructures in place to prevent mistakes.

Now, why would this be a big deal? I mean, it’s just a phone bill, right?

Duh: once you know who someone calls, how much, and how often, this can reveal a lot about them. As an example, think of the various affairs which get caught via phone bills. As another example, a person’s call to a suicide prevention or domestic abuse hotline is revealing by its existence without needing to know the content.

The request, from what I’ve read in the papers, appears to have been for all of Verizon’s billing record data correlated with the tower data. Geez. That is a LOT of data.

I’ve heard some of the more anarcho-libertarian folks say that the telcos should have refused to comply with such a request, but honestly, it appears that the request is currently legal. I disagree with Yoo’s analysis of reasonableness for the following reason:

Let me supply an 18th century analogy: in the way that the addressing of an envelope is not private information (because the USPS needs to read it). By Yoo’s logic, it would be okay for the USPS to maintain (and more to the point, require the USPS, along with FedEx, UPS, etc, to collect), and
the government to subpoena all of the senders’ names & addresses, along with the receivers’ names & addresses, along with the mailbox addresses, and the weight (letter or parcel? How heavy?) of all mail & parcels delivered between people in the US.
UPDATE: Apparently real life is surpassing my examples, and the USPS is doing exactly this. Yikes.

That sure would make it easy to root out any left over Tories, now, wouldn’t it? Communists too! Along with them, we could ferret out the abolitionists, suffragettes, gay rights activists, Mormons, or maybe anyone else who happened to be on the bad list today?

So clearly I think this is a problem: we’ve given the government the power of total surveillance, à la Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother. The law needs to be changed, and in a hurry.

My views on this topic are my own, and do not reflect my employer or anyone else.


About thegameiam
I'm a network engineer, musician, and Orthodox Jew who opines on things which cross my path.

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