Thursday, July 18, 2013

Guilt by meta-association

It turns out that the NSA's spying on Americans is far worse than we thought:

The National Security Agency revealed to an angry congressional panel on Wednesday that its analysis of phone records and online behavior goes exponentially beyond what it had previously disclosed.

John C Inglis, the deputy director of the surveillance agency, told a member of the House judiciary committee that NSA analysts can perform "a second or third hop query" through its collections of telephone data and internet records in order to find connections to terrorist organizations.

"Hops" refers to a technical term indicating connections between people. A three-hop query means that the NSA can look at data not only from a suspected terrorist, but from everyone that suspect communicated with, and then from everyone those people communicated with, and then from everyone all of those people communicated with.

So, being a friend of a friend of a friend of a suspected terrorist is now considered "suspicious" by the NSA, and reason to rummage through your life. This is beyond even guilt by association; its now guilt by meta-association. And the US calls itself a land of freedom? It's a freedom only for spies, I think.

The good news is that Congress is getting restless, and is openly threatening not to renew the law empowering this mass-surveillance. But that surveillance gives the NSA the perfect tool to force Congress into line, in that they they can target uncooperative politicians, learn their dirty secrets, and either blackmail or discredit them. That's the really horrifying thing here: once you have set up this surveillance infrastructure, your democracy exists only by the goodwill of the spies.

All of which is an even stronger reason not to let it happen here. John Key's spy bill would hand the GCSB even broader powers than those the NSA is abusing. It cannot be allowed to pass.