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View Diary: 99.80% Error rate! NSA Leaks destroy legal defenses of wiretaps! (93 comments)

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  •  technical stuff... (none)

    That's now SIGINT (signals intelligence) collection works: you put out a broad net, most of the fish in the area swim through it without being caught, but a bunch are caught, and of those, most are thrown back, leaving the fishy-fish you're interested in.

    Of course it has a low hit rate.  That's the nature of it.  Just like, astronomers searching for stars with probable planets have a low hit rate, but the occasional hit justifies the search.  

    This is why it's illegal to do this domestically:  any type of permission to do it would be a "writ of assistance" or "general writ" which is expressly prohibited by the Constitution and our legal history all the way back to English law.  

    Our legal history says you have to specify person or place to be searched or siezed.  You cannot say "anyone who meets such-and-such characteristics."  Yet, SIGINT collection works based on targeted characteristics: origin & destination telephone numbers, IP addresses, email headers, keywords in text, voiceprints, and arguably spoken keywords in normal speech.  For example, all telephone calls from X area in the US to Y area in Afghanistan, where the speaker uses the word "Sheik" (a reference to Osama).  

    It might be possible to carve out a narrow legal exception to the 4th Amendment based on a finding of national emergency, and including a sunset clause so it has to be periodically renewed.  This might or might not stand up in court if someone were put on trial (big "if" nowadays!).  

    But the central problem here is, should we change the law in response to lawbreaking?  There is a world of difference between changing the law on behalf of a subsequent administration that has declared it will live within the law, and changing the law in response to an administration that has declared itself above the law.  The former is a topic for reasonable debate, the latter is a slippery slope to tyranny.  

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