This Eric Lichtblau article provides a lot of dots that have been, heretofore, missing in our picture of the surveillance they've got us under. It's no surprise the government has been using data mining on not just suspects themselves, but also on their friends and associates--a virtual "Friends and Families" plan of surveillance.
The documents indicate that the Federal Bureau of Investigation used secret demands for records to obtain data not only on individuals it saw as targets but also details on their “community of interest” — the network of people that the target in turn was in contact with.
But given the description, it's more clear now why the Administration refused all meaningful oversight of the minimization they're doing on their warrantless wiretapping. You can't really collect a "community of interest" and at the same time be claiming you're eliminating all data on those not directly targeted.
Further, the article explains why Alberto Gonzales got all squirmy early this year when SJC asked him for information on National Security Letters. They were still trying to hide these communities of interest, so Gonzales didn't want to provide much information on the program. And meanwhile, they were trying to bury the program.
The government official who spoke on condition of anonymity said the F.B.I. recently stopped asking the telecommunications companies for the community of interest data. The exact time of and reason for the suspension is unclear, but it appears to have been set off in part by the questions raised earlier this year by the inspector general’s initial review into abuses in the use of national security letters.
And finally, it adds another reason why telecom companies are anxious to get immunity for their work on the Administration's warrantless wiretap program. That's because some of that wiretapping was based on analysis the telecom companies are already doing on us.
Matt Blaze, a professor of computer and information science at the University of Pennsylvania and a former researcher for AT&T, said the telecommunications companies could have easily provided the F.B.I. with the type of network analysis data it was seeking because they themselves had developed it over many years, often using sophisticated software like a program called Analyst’s Notebook.
“This sort of analysis of calling patterns and who the communities of interests are is the sort of things telephone companies are doing anyway because it’s central to their businesses for marketing or optimizing the network or detecting fraud,” said Professor Blaze, who has worked with the F.B.I. on technology issues.
Such “analysis is extremely powerful and very revealing because you get these linkages between people that wouldn’t be otherwise clear, sometimes even more important than the content itself” of phone calls and e-mail messages, he said. “But it’s also very invasive. There’s always going to be a certain amount of noise,” with data collected on people who have no real links to suspicious activity, he said. [my emphasis]
You see, when these lawsuits go forward, we'll have a sense not just of how the telecom companies are complicit in the government's spying on us--but how much they're already spying on us, anyway.