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The NSA file thefts aren’t the real scandal

June 15, 2013

The current NSA scandal or theft or leak or whatever you want to call it, has an awful lot of people in a dither about the privacy of their personal information.

The words data mining just naturally stirs up images of some Bondian spy hanging on to our every word  and chuckling evilly as he notes that we had meat for dinner last night and passes the information on to some radical group so they can picket our home.

In reality, data mining, on the scale that is being publicly acknowledged at least, has been done in some form or another since written records became possible. The first farmer that wondered how much grain to plant and started keeping track of how many people were available to buy grain was using a form of data mining. Heck, if you kept track of which toy ads were most popular to find out what the grandkids wanted for presents, you were data mining on a very low level. What do you think Google adwords is all about?  Data mining, that’s what. In other words the mass identification of certain trends through the collection of data targeted and formulated to establish patterns of behavior.

All those ads that mysteriously pop up when you turn on your computer?  Data Mining. Nice jewelry suddenly going from being set in gold to silver or even electroplated base metals?  Data mining. Also called market research, all the trends that decide what color is going to be hot next spring had to have some sort of basis in fact before someone decided to sink next year’s manufacturing budget into neon orange. Since all data on who likes neon orange is filed electronically, it is accessed by data mining. The problem is not what “they”  know, but who can access the information, and how responsibly will they use it?

The seemingly inept and naive social progressive administration we have now doesn’t exactly engender a huge feeling of “everything’s OK”. From pushing bad loans to politically correct industries to allowing or ignoring the targeting of political rivals using the IRS, to staff and department heads whose main defense to the scandals is “I don’t know” or “not me”, I have a hard time believing anyone is in charge of anything more important than finding out how many people will vote for Democrats in the next election.

From a logical standpoint, the whole story of how the NSA information was accessed and gotten out of the country stinks to high heaven. I used to work in the health care industry. To comply with HIPPA patient privacy controls we had to develop policies and procedures to assure the data was safeguarded. I know that we had to restrict possession of removable media to certain people, and even they had to account for where the laptop or flash drive was kept and keep it locked up. People got fired just for forgetting to put their laptop in their locked car trunk.

It’s kind of hard for me to swallow that this guy had developed such a good record of being trustworthy in the short time he worked for his employer that he was allowed to freely enter any database or transfer data to a flash drive at will. Now he was either an accomplished hacker and sleight of hand artist, or someone who did have the right clearances showed him how to get into and save those files or even just gave him the drive and he skedaddled with it. Either that, or whatever security protocols were in place were so lax that even I could have gotten in and looked at and saved all those files.

If Snowden’s motive was truly noble, there are dozens of right-wing organizations he could have given the information to that would have been more than happy to publicize it. I think the information is right where he intended for it to be all along.

 I’m a lot more worried about how and why he got access to it in the first place, than what the mechanisms are that allowed the collection of the data.

Ever since 911 we have known that the security services electronically tracked contacts between suspicious people, organizations, and locations. That was public knowledge when the Patriot Act was passed. The question isn’t did we know it was happening. Anyone who wanted to search for general information on government electronic surveillance or read the Patriot Act knew or should have known that this was happening. And obviously nothing that is available in the cloud is private.  I think I figured that out in about 1988, when I realized that I could sent a file to a home office in another city. 

The problem is that this whole administration is so publicly and solely focused on being political animals. The criteria for every decision seems to be –  how can we use this to advance our political agenda?  And that’s what truly scares me about all of the scandals. It seems that just about anything goes, so long as it has a political benefit.  When are we going to demand that our government put politics aside and govern?  I don’t personally give a damn what political party you are. I do care that if I elect you to represent the best interests of America and all of its people, that you do so without political bias. The fact that everything about American governance and decision making is reduced to influencing a political poll is the real scandal. 

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