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  • The state of state surveillance technology

    Posted by Mrs. Davis on March 25th, 2017 (All posts by )

    All the discussion of the Trump “wiretapping” seems to assume that there are targets of surveillance. I thought that had passed away years ago and that NSA was simply capturing all transmissions in the ether, converting them from voice to text and storing both in a searchable data base. While additional land lines may be intercepted, the vast majority of signals are now airborne at some point so the NSA has access to virtually all electronic communication, foreign and domestic. Likewise, they do not, except in extraordinary circumstances, have acres of analysts sitting in cubes listening to conversations in real time. Instead, software constantly crawls the text database for terms of interest or manually input searches, such as the names of everyone on the Trump transition team. This is how team 0bama got the dirt that has been leaked to the press.

    Politics is now under the influence of those at NSA with search authorization much more than the Kremlin, except to the extent they have comparable capabilities. I suspect the Kremlin has comparable intellectual capabilities but less access to transmissions and even less processing bandwidth. Given the acceptance of the loss of privacy by the facebook generation, this can only expand. And to think that only 80 years ago a Secretary of State could opine that “Gentlemen do not read each others mail.” Things have changed, and once again, not for the better.

    Got that off my chest. Now if only the tin foil would stop irritating my scalp.


    11 Responses to “The state of state surveillance technology”

    1. jaed Says:

      I assume the NSA records everything, but not everyone necessarily has access to the NSA’s databases. To get information into the other parts of the administration (for FBI investigation, IRS targeting, selective leaks to the Democratic candidate’s campaign, less-selective leaks to the press, among other possibilities), one needs different means of surveillance.

      (I find putting a mild negative charge on the tinfoil helps with the itching problem.)

    2. Phil Ossiferz Stone Says:

      You guys are joking about something that isn’t funny. Every American baby is born with a warrantless wiretap stapled to its head. This is Orwellian. It either ceases, or we do.

    3. James the lesser Says:

      The last time I checked, voice to text had a high error rate. Looking for terrorist needles in a haystack full of typos sounds like a punishment for the damned.

      On the other hand, if you know who you want to drill down on, even the metadata might be enlightening.

    4. Mrs. Davis Says:

      The voice to text they use on live closed caption TV doesn’t look too bad, and I’d imagine they have correction software that can catch a lot of errors later. It doesn’t have to be perfect unless it’s called up from a search. And then it can be manually corrected if necessary.

    5. James the lesser Says:

      I’ve not seen a lot of cctv, but what I have seen has had maybe a few errors in a hundred–which it about what I’d expect from elsewhere. Given a hundred million conversations, that’s a lot of errors to sort through.

      My eldest has been doing transcription of personal histories for the local veteran’s museum, and my wife has been checking his work. Recording glitches and obscure place or machine names cause most of the problems–and I’d think those would hurt automatic transcription even more. Though perhaps the software could insert a list of possible words instead of a single word…

    6. Brian Says:

      I’m pretty sure they’re not actually scanning all audio communications for anything of interest. I think you’d find that the volume of information and the failure rate are both way too high. Now, in another decade, maybe. Things like metadata of communications is different, and more amenable to analysis by massive computing. It sure sounds like the Trump-related surveillance was classic target-specific spying that could have been done decades ago.

    7. PenGun Says:

      NSA wants everything, so there’s a coarse filter on that incoming. I doubt it goes beyond that for normal traffic.

      The people they are interested in have fine filters on their traffic and really you can keylog through a window now.

      There are ways to be secure but many of them would just attract attention, security gone. One can hide stuff in a sock drawer, probably that’s the best most people can do, unless you expect to be visited.

      I don’t care myself. Just being annoying is enough for me. I do send them mail in various ways when they screw up though. ;) I have not been gentle lately, although I imagine they are just amused.

    8. Mrs. Davis Says:

      They’re using it for your medical records.

      Brian, I think you’d find the amount of computing and storage capacity at the NSA mind boggling.

    9. mezzrow Says:

      I find that my scalp gets much less irritated with the shiny side out, Mrs. D.

      I just assume they have it all right down to my cat’s dreams, but can’t imagine why I would be interesting enough for anyone to care about anything I’ve done. All I have to do to keep this up is just be boring old me.

    10. jaed Says:

      Phil, the only thing I was joking about was the tinfoil.

      terms of interest or manually input searches
      …and searches for patterns emerging from the data. Which means you don’t need to input a specific term or phrase, or watch particular people. Instead you have the software look for potential connections, networks, or patterns of activity.

      (And don’t forget that all this can be stored forever.)

    11. Grurray Says:

      Hold up, don’t be so quick to dismiss that tinfoil just yet

      A joint team of American and British scientists have discovered that powerful magnetic pulses to the brain can temporarily change people’s feelings on a variety of subjects – from their belief in God, to their attitude to immigration.

      Amongst those who received the strong magnetic dose, 32.8 per cent fewer had decreased beliefs in God, angels and heaven compared to the control group who received no dose.

      Fortunately, the angels had already informed me of this fact years ago, so I’ve got a comfortable lifetime supply…