Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Our Privacy is Not at Stake - Our Security is...

Heather Mac Donald of the Manhattan Institute wrote an illuminating column in the latest issue of The Weekly Standard about the truth behind USA Today's reckless cover story on the NSA's counterterrorism program.

(This little faux headline preceding her piece is priceless...)

"...Only a paranoid solipsist could feel threatened by the recently revealed calling analysis program. Since late 2001, Verizon, BellSouth, and ATT have connected nearly two trillion calls, according to the Washington Post. The companies gave NSA the incoming and outgoing numbers of those calls, stripped of all identifying information such as name or address. No conversational content was included. The NSA then put its supercharged computers to work analyzing patterns among the four trillion numbers involved in the two trillion calls, to look for clusters that might suggest terrorist connections. Though the details are unknown, they might search for calls to known terrorists, or, more speculatively, try to elicit templates of terror calling behavior from the data.

...True, the government can de-anonymize the data if connections to terror suspects emerge, and it is not known what threshold of proof the government uses to put a name to critical phone numbers. But until that point is reached, your privacy is at greater risk from the Goodyear blimp at a Stones concert than from the NSA's supercomputers churning through trillions of zeros and ones representing disembodied phone numbers."

Max Boot also delivers a scathing indictment of these blinded "civil-liberties absolutists" who consistently undermine our country's national security.

In today's Los Angeles Times, Boot writes, "When it comes to the war on terror, the biggest advantage we have comes from our electronic wizardry. The National Security Agency has its share of problems, but it has long been the best in the business at intercepting and deciphering enemy communications. Until now. If civil liberties agitators, grandstanding politicians and self-righteous newspaper editorialists have their way, we will have to give up our most potent line of defense because of largely hypothetical concerns about privacy violations.

...All this concern with privacy would be touching if it weren't so selective. With a few keystrokes, Google will display anything posted by or about you. A few more keystrokes can in all probability uncover the date of your birth, your address and telephone number and every place you have lived, along with satellite photos of the houses and how much you paid for them, any court actions you have been involved in and much, much more.

It is only a little more work to obtain your full credit history and Social Security number. Or details of your shopping, traveling and Web-browsing habits. Such information is routinely gathered and sold by myriad marketing outfits. So it's OK to violate your privacy to sell you something — but not to protect you from being blown up."

This latest brouhaha over supposed privacy rights violations is absolute nonsense. Garbage. The NSA calling analysis program is far from a threat; on the contrary, it is an essential component of the administration's ongoing efforts to keep American citizens safe from those who wish us harm.

President Bush ought to take the offensive. Go straight to the American people; explain what this program entails, why we need it, and why these national security saboteurs are dead wrong - yet again.

Senator Specter, Dianne Feinstein, handfuls of other misguided politicians on Capitol Hill, as well as various television pundits and newspaper editors would do well to listen.

People's lives are at stake here - not their privacy.