The Other Problem with the Obama Proposal: Who Does the Pizza Joint Review?

I’m sure I’ll spend all day discussing the various proposals to “fix” the dragnet.

I’ve already shown why the House Intelligence bill is not an improvement and should not be discussed by credible people as one.

And on Twitter and briefly in that piece, I described two problems that aren’t addressed at all in either of these proposals, including President Obama’s plan laid out by Charlie Savage.

  • The Reasonable Articulable Suspicion standard is still far too lenient, allowing the government to engage in a broad digital stop-and-frisk system
  • Once supplied to NSA, it will presumably subject tens or hundreds of thousands of innocent people to the full array of NSA’s tradecraft

Finally, though, there’s one other problem, which directly affects how many people get subjected to such analytical tradecraft, a problem identified by no other person than … Barack Obama.

Relying solely on the records of multiple providers, for example, could require companies to alter their procedures in ways that raise new privacy concerns.

I suspect one of those privacy concerns, as I laid out in this post, is the necessity to make analytical judgments about what high volume numbers distort the chaining system.

Someone needs to go in and take out such high volume numbers — which include voice mail access numbers, telemarketers, and pizza joints — otherwise almost everyone is two degrees of separation from everyone else.

For two of these functions, I assume the telecoms can do the task as easily as the NSA. (The dirty secret is they conduct the same kind of 3-degrees analysis as the government does!) They know what their own (and reseller phone companies) voice mail access numbers are, after all, and surely they track the telemarketer spam that weighs down their system.

It’s the pizza joints that have me — that always have me — worried.

Pizza joints absolutely distort the contact chaining system. Keith Alexander learned this when the contact chaining he was doing — and he used to claim he had mapped out all the evil people tied to Iraq — showed everyone to be guilty because they frequented the same pizza joints.

When he ran INSCOM and was horning in on the NSA’s turf, Alexander was fond of building charts that showed how a suspected terrorist was connected to a much broader network of people via his communications or the contacts in his phone or email account.

“He had all these diagrams showing how this guy was connected to that guy and to that guy,” says a former NSA official who heard Alexander give briefings on the floor of the Information Dominance Center. “Some of my colleagues and I were skeptical. Later, we had a chance to review the information. It turns out that all [that] those guys were connected to were pizza shops.”

Nevertheless, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and sometimes a tie through a pizza joint can be a very important tie through a pizza joint, as I believe Gerry’s Italian Kitchen was in the case of the Tsarnaev brothers. If NSA purged the pizza joint in that case, they may have eliminated some of the most important evidence tying the brothers (or at least Tamerlan) to the Waltham murder in 2011.

So who, under this new system, will do the pizza joint analysis?

If the phone companies do it (which I doubt, because of cases like the Tsarnaevs), it will mean even more intensive data mining of customer data while it remains in their hands.

If the NSA does it, it means a lot more totally innocent people will have their data turned over to NSA to do as they wish.

Don’t get me wrong. The Obama proposal is an improvement off the status quo. But for these reasons, including the pizza joint problem, it still doesn’t comply with the Fourth or First Amendments.

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13 Responses to The Other Problem with the Obama Proposal: Who Does the Pizza Joint Review?

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Emptywheel Twitterverse
emptywheel @ArmyJew We'd blow up the Iraqi and Syrian nuke facilities if they weren't in a bunker? Did we? @JeffreyGoldberg @rickhasen
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emptywheel @elonjames Also, "no damn cocktail until you sit down and get out of the way for everyone else."
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emptywheel .@JeffreyGoldberg Given Israel's habit of blowing up stuff that's not in a bunker? @rickhasen
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emptywheel @occbaystreet Going on court. Note that we know where he got his remote control stuff from (updated post). Amazon & CA place. @onekade
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emptywheel @occbaystreet Assuming they don't check IP. But that's not where he would have done search. @onekade
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emptywheel @occbaystreet Where they do collect on everyone they have rules about querying, but those are looser overseas. @onekade
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emptywheel @onekade I know how we can fix that! Pass an anti-trafficking law criminalizing sex work.
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emptywheel @occbaystreet One other thing w/Tam is when Russia sent tip they SHOULD have back door searched him, but was b4 they'd have stuff @onekade
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emptywheel @occbaystreet For XKS? No. For 702 we have numbers of targets, which is different than queries @onekade
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emptywheel If I were a DEA agent I'd leak details on parties w/escorts hosted by PHARMA for MoCs. Cause if I were DEA agent I'd be ruthless
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emptywheel @occbaystreet But they can do searches on convos bt USPs & targets overseas (thus, Inspire) so long as they always target overseas @onekade
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