Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The new technology at the root of the NSA wiretap scandal

What Bush might be doing:
A year after the CALEA passed, the FBI disclosed plans to require the phone companies to build into their infrastructure the capacity to simultaneously wiretap 1 percent of all phone calls in all major U.S. cities. This would represent more than a thousandfold increase over previous levels in the number of phones that could be wiretapped. In previous years, there were only about a thousand court-ordered wiretaps in the United States per year, at the federal, state, and local levels combined. It's hard to see how the government could even employ enough judges to sign enough wiretap orders to wiretap 1 percent of all our phone calls, much less hire enough federal agents to sit and listen to all that traffic in real time. The only plausible way of processing that amount of traffic is a massive Orwellian application of automated voice recognition technology to sift through it all, searching for interesting keywords or searching for a particular speaker's voice. If the government doesn't find the target in the first 1 percent sample, the wiretaps can be shifted over to a different 1 percent until the target is found, or until everyone's phone line has been checked for subversive traffic. The FBI said they need this capacity to plan for the future. This plan sparked such outrage that it was defeated in Congress. But the mere fact that the FBI even asked for these broad powers is revealing of their agenda.
It's unclear whether this actually is what the Bush program is doing, it's just unknown at this point. But if this is the kind of activity that they've got the NSA engaged in, it's potentially on a massive scale and would explain why there was, in their view, a need to avoid judicial scrutiny. Whether they have the technology to achieve such monitoring is another unknown question to be answered.

Hat tip to disco for this very intriguing link...[note: I was unable to view the link with Firefox, try Safari which worked for me, or another browser...]