I have a friend who likes to muck about with the Google search engine, clicking random things, and random sites just so she can see what kinds of dating ads Facebook will put on her feed. She gets a great laugh out of this and enjoys sharing the types of men (and sometimes women) Facebook suggests she should date.
How is this done?
Well, an algorithm records the IP address of her computer, and notes the addresses of the sites she visits or the searches she runs. The algorithm then matches certain keywords to other keywords and then shoots the content to her Facebook page.
But we all knew that.
That's how ads come up in your browser. Major IT companies, be they Microsoft, Google, Mozilla, what have you, automatically collect that data and sell it to whichever corporations ask. Certain personal information they are not allowed to share, but which sites you visit are fair game for sharing among these corporations. And we give that information fairly willingly. If you don't believe me, go read brooklynbadboy's Front Page diary.
Now, a recent diary had a Congressperson saying that upwards of a billion records a day were being obtained--I'm not going to say collected, because the data has already been collected by the ISPs and those who run the websites.
We all know that there's no way humanly possible to go through all those records.
Which means algorithms have to be devised to search for particular things--combinations of keywords, websites, etc. And even only then, the algorithms are only designed to raise the red flags. They aren't designed to read or analyze the entire content. But when red flags are raised, then the FISA courts kick in.
At least this is how I think the program is being run. I could be wrong, I often am. But essentially, my point is this:
And it's all perfectly legal.
It makes one wonder "What's the difference between Google collecting data, 'spying on us', if you will, and the NSA?"
I mean, I can get as specific as "I would like to market to left-handed scatophiles who don't like tomatoes but are passionate Australian Rules Football fans" and there would be data waiting for me.
And I don't even have to get a court order to do it, either.
Welcome to life in the Cloud.
Here's where things get blurry: If Amazon and Google can essentially spy on you to "better enhance your browsing experience" with ads and suggestions on books/movies/music you may enjoy and not get screamed at about violations of the Fourth Amendment, how is that different from the NSA obtaining all that data as well and running it through their own algorithms looking for potential threats to security?
We sit typing at our computers, fully aware that KosMedia is tailoring adverts to suit our browsing. We view diaries about Ron Paul? Surprise, we get Ron Paul for President ads. We view diaries critical of the President, we get RNC and WND ads. It's like they know.
We live in a world where everything you do is being or has the potential to be recorded. And I do mean everything.
So basically what we've learned is that the NSA is one big Dyson® vacuum cleaner sucking every bit of electronic data they find into a building. Which is what all these corporations do anyway. And we all knew this anyway. Seriously. Who didn't?
It's how much is actively monitored that is the question.
We all know that law enforcement agencies monitor and retrieve such data. Every cop show or forensics show does it. Our focus shouldn't be on the giant Hoover that is the NSA. It should be on the FISA system and the National Security Letter system. THAT'S where we need the transparency. Because anyone who remembers a very young Matthew Broderick in War Games knows that anything put out in the cloud can be collected even if you still have a phone modem. And we are naive to think that it's not being hoovered up by other nations or interests as well. And what will be the case in the next century or half century when the means of transmitting data evolve past the internet and wireless communication such as we have? Because you know that evolution will happen. Eighteenth, Nineteenth, and Twentieth Century laws cannot keep up.
So let's focus the oversight on the question of actively monitoring--that is, the actual "listening to the phone conversation" or the "watching every keystroke" or whatever the modern form of an internet wiretap is. Focus on the warrant (or lack of) system for getting permission to monitor.
Because all data you create is being stored somewhere--either by Google and Facebook, by Sprint or Verizon, or by Fort Meade in the new center in Utah.
Snowden just released the size and scope of the hoovering operation. Everything posted has been about how the NSA has the ability to do this or that with regards to actively monitoring.
But there has been nothing concrete about them DOING active listening. No proof that your call is indeed being monitored by a hidden pair of ears, that they don't know that your Aunt Midred calls you "pookie-pie" as a pet name as the result of an embarrassing incident when you were a baby.
So--oversight on the algorithms used to determine who to monitor, transparency in the FISA and secret court system. Perhaps that's where we should be concentrating our energy.
Because in the Twenty-first Century, it's not the collection of data, it's how it's used that will be the Constitutional question of the day.