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The thoughts and theories of a guy who basically should have gone to bed hours ago.

I know, I know - what's the point? But look at it this way - I stayed up late writing it, but you're reading it...

Let's call ourselves even & move on, OK?


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Monday, August 14, 2006

On Politics - August, 2006


There have been a few political events in the past few weeks that made me think, "Hey - I should blog about that," but I'd keep getting too busy (or too tired) to write up an entry. So, I figure I'll put some comments about each of them in one entry and see what interest it generates (i.e., will anyone other than Jeff comment?). If this sort of thing bores you, move on now. You've been warned.

First, the Democratic primary for senator in Connecticut. Jeff Porten has a couple of great posts up about how the Democrats are missing yet another opportunity here, and I have a couple of posts up as well. We have different takes on some of the particulars, but oddly enough, we are pretty much in agreement on this one.

(In other news, all the pigs are flying out of Hell because it's getting too chilly, and Massachusetts has just approved cat/dog marriages.)

One thing we both agree on is the nasty nature of Dick Cheney's remarks after the primary was over. The Vice President said that the Lamont victory might "embolden al Qaeda types," because it would be seen as a weakening of America's resolve vis-a-vis the war. This is dumb for several reasons, but mainly it's dumb because it implies that the next terrorist attack is somehow the fault of those who voted against the current administration's policies. If anything, I'd rather see the grandiose, made-for-TV protests stop (oh yeah, they have stopped, haven't they?) and have people express their displeasure at the polls. It's a more effective form of protest, it actually generates progress for the cause it advocates, and if anything, it shows the terrorists that the American people will have their voices heard, even if they disagree with their leaders. Also, an elected official should never be discouraging people from voting, no matter what the circumstances.

So Cheney did a dumb thing. Except that Cheney also did a smart thing, because he (and the rest of the GOP) have learned from recent history that this stuff works like magic where the Democrats are concerned. Instead of talking about democracy and the sanctity of "one man, one vote," here are samples of remarks from both parties on the issue:


Senator Harry Reid (D-NV): "Once again, GOP (Republican) leaders are using terrorism and our national security as a political wedge issue. It is disgusting -- but not surprising."

George W. Bush: "Unfortunately, some have suggested recently that the terrorist threat is being used for partisan political advantage. We can have legitimate disagreements about the best way to fight the terrorists, yet there should be no disagreement about the dangers we face."

Reid is wrong here and Bush is right. Terrorism and national security ARE political issues, and SHOULD be used as such. It is, after all, our politicians that decide how/when/where to fight terrorism and maintain national security. I can't think of a more appropriate topic for the political arena.

What Reid is trying to do here is suggest that the Republicans are benefiting from the suffering of others (as the DNC did when Bush put a scene from Ground Zero into one of his campaign ads). The comparison falls flat here, though, because there wasn't any suffering. This was a failed terrorist plot, and the way in which it was foiled, as well our government's reaction in it's aftermath are legitimate political discussions.

Speaking of government reaction, this entire ordeal has provided an interesting insight into British politics and civil rights that I had not seen before. For example, despite all our hand-wringing over wiretapping and financial surveillance, it was these kinds of techniques that led us to Rashid Rauf, who was arrested in Pakistan and led the British authorities to arrest 24 additional suspects. And while we complain about all the secrets our government keeps from the mainstream media, this article suggests that things are much worse in Britain:


Since 24 people were arrested last Thursday, it has largely been left to the United States and Pakistan to elaborate on what British police said was an "attempt to commit mass murder on an unimaginable scale".

After 72 hours of caution, Home Secretary John Reid and the government's most senior law adviser, Attorney General Lord Peter Goldsmith, reminded the media to "exercise considerable restraint" in their reporting.

They cited the Contempt of Court Act 1981, which essentially prohibits the publication of any information after an arrest that may give rise to a substantial risk of serious prejudice at any future trial.

The article also mentions that British law allows the government to hold a security suspect for 28 days without charging him. We've had complaints about this kind of thing in the U.S., but have never come close to passing such a law. Finally, did anyone notice that the restrictions placed on air travel by the British were far more invasive than those of the Americans? No carry-on bags of any kind, no electronic devices and no liquids. One woman was dreading have to spend an entire 8-hour flight without her iPod.

So, it turns out that our "govern by fear" administration provides more information to its public, treats its suspects better, and respects the civil liberties of its citizens more than our friends in the United Kingdom.

Something to remember next time you hear someone say we're on the road to fascism in America...

posted by Brian at 9:44 PM


10 Comments:

  • Man. Make a guy's comments feel unwanted, why don't you.

    I'm going to gloss over the comments you made about the evil partisan-mongering Democrats and the Great Truth of GWB, just because your reconstruction of the last six years of American political life threatens to make my head explode if I contemplate it too much.

    I will note, however, that Yahoo/Reuters is covering the story about how the terrorists were uncovered by the Vast Surveillance Apparatus, while the blogs I read say they came to British attention because a next-door neighbor tipped them off. And, apparently, the Brits were sitting on them for months and moved not because they were ready to attack, but because the US wanted them to. Jury is still out on which one of us actually has the facts, so I'm just pointing out the two versions of reality for now.

    BTW, yes, America has a Bill of Rights and Britain doesn't. This is one way in which America rocks, and why Americans should pay close attention to the erosion of liberties that are not guaranteed elsewhere. God only knows why you think I feel otherwise.

    By Anonymous Jeff Porten, at 6:39 PM, August 14, 2006  


  • OK, so much for the new Brian/Jeff detente...I knew it was too good to last. ;-)

    As to the two realities, I've seen them both as well. The details are a bit different, but the substance is essentially the same - somehow (still up in the air), they found out about this guy, at which point they began surveillance. When he fled to Pakistan, they enlisted the help of the Pakistani government, who declared him a significant threat. Somehow (still up in the air), they decided to arrest him, at which point a fellow terrorist made a panicked phone call from Karachi to Britain (also picked up under surveillance), ordering him to move forward with the plane bombing plan urgently. That phone call then prompted the arrest of the other 24 folks.

    Some tinfoil hat folks are trying to spin the US/UK/Pakistani cooperation as some kind of bad thing/intelligence blunder, but in either case, it seems obvious that if Britain wasn't wiretapping domestic calls to/from suspected terrorists like we are (were?), this thing would not have been shut down as quickly as it was. At the very least, it makes one wonder why USA Today story on wiretapping drew privacy complaints from congressional leaders & advocacy groups alike, while the stories about travel restrictions only mention privacy in passing. Especially since we now have (anecdotal) proof that the former is more effective than the latter, and logic would indicate that the former affects less people than the latter. Dare I suggest the former makes for better headlines, since it's TOP SECRET?

    As for the Bill of Rights, I'm not stating or implying that you aren't a big fan. Nor am I suggesting that we don't fight tenaciously against any erosion of those rights. What I'm saying is the next time someone tells me how we're losing the battle and are slipping down the long slope to fascism, I'll be sure to point out that we're still way ahead of every other country in the world...

    By Blogger Brian, at 10:04 AM, August 15, 2006  


  • Let's make sure we're talking about the same thing in regards to wiretapping. It sounds like there was sufficient evidence here to deem these people Bad Guys, in which case there are legal methods by which you can tap their phones and pick up the phone call that says, "go blow up people." I'm not against that -- in fact, I'm in favor of that kind of thing when it involves warrants and investigations and all that messy stuff.

    Meanwhile, if you've got any evidence that this information was picked up via wiretap -- especially via a blanket wiretap -- as opposed to people on the ground who might have, say, heard the conversation in person or second-hand, then feel free to share. From here, though, it looks like yet another case of making logical leaps in order to retroactively justify the "tap everyone on the planet" movement.

    BTW, last time I saw a human rights report, the US came in around 17th on a number of human rights measures, so I rather question the knee-jerk "Woo hoo! USA! Number one!" mentality that infects us so often. I *don't* question that we get historical credit for largely inventing the concept, but in the present day we don't quite live up to our ideals. Next time you and I are in the same town where the president is speaking, let's head over to a free speech zone and debate it.

    By Anonymous Jeff Porten, at 8:05 PM, August 15, 2006  


  • Here's the quote from the article I linked to:

    Pakistani officials say Rashid Rauf's arrest prompted an accomplice in the southern city of Karachi to make a panicked phone call to a suspect in Britain, giving the signal for the airliner plot to move forward urgently. The intercepted call was instrumental in foiling the bombing plot, officials say.

    I don't know what the warrant situation was, nor do I know what the warrant-like laws are in the UK. The point is not to justify the US policy (even if the facts were an exact match, one example doesn't prove the case), only to point out that no one questions these techniques when they work. Unless you have a quote from a leading Democratic senator condeming the British authorities for violating the rights of the British terrorist who's phone call was tapped by his own government when he hadn't yet broken any laws?

    And as for the free speech zones, that sounds great - they are, ater all, vast and plentiful (like the one we're in right now...)

    By Blogger Brian, at 11:41 PM, August 15, 2006  


  • Brian, the holes in this argument are wide enough to drive an SUV through without scraping the sides.

    1) The whole point of my argument is that warranted, legal, and hence focused wiretaps work as part of a criminal investigation, while blanket wiretaps do not. If this tap was implemented as part of, say, a months-long investigation, then it's evidence for my side, not yours.

    1a) I find it interesting that you immediately jump to the conclusion that any -successful wiretap is automatically evidence in favor of blanket wiretapping.

    1b) I agree with you that I can't fall back on my "unconstitutional" argument when dealing with a British case, so I'm forced to resort to my "it's wholly ineffective" argument.

    1c) When you have actual evidence in contradiction to 1b), please share. Until then, your support is a faith-based initiative.

    2) People frequently question techniques when they work. Our entire criminal justice system is predicated on this. If you're tortured, your confession is inadmissible as evidence. If your house is searched without warrant -- otherwise known as "burglarized by the government" and a substantial concern of the Founding Fathers -- that's inadmissible. Granted that the Democrats are spineless, but I don't need them; I've got two centuries of jurisprudence on my side, while you're basically appealing to mob rule for justification.

    3) As I've said before, if a country has a free speech zone, what does that say about all of the spaces outside the zone? You can't be a little bit pregnant.

    By Anonymous Jeff Porten, at 12:11 AM, August 21, 2006  


  • Brian: The point is not to justify the US policy (even if the facts were an exact match, one example doesn't prove the case)...

    Jeff: I find it interesting that you immediately jump to the conclusion that any -successful wiretap is automatically evidence in favor of blanket wiretapping.


    Sigh...

    1b) I agree with you that I can't fall back on my "unconstitutional" argument when dealing with a British case, so I'm forced to resort to my "it's wholly ineffective" argument.

    1c) When you have actual evidence in contradiction to 1b), please share. Until then, your support is a faith-based initiative.


    That's a shame, because your "wholly ineffective" argument is much weaker. My evidence is the thousands of people and billions of dollars that are currently using data mining for everything from lowering the cost of your checking account to figuring out what kind of breakfast cereal you're likely to buy if they advertise it to you at the right time.

    It's a proven technique that's been growing in sophistication and usage for the last 7-8 years. That said, I have no opinion whatsoever on whether it's an effective technique for identifying terrorists, but you can't write it off as useless simply because someone with a lefty axe to grind declares it so. Also, every time data mining is used in the corporate world, someone finds a way to improve it. Please explain to me how this alone isn't reason to experiment with it in DHS, even if the data is so bad right now as to make it unusable for actual terrorist catching?

    2) People frequently question techniques when they work. [Torture & illegal search are inadmissable.]

    That's not questioning techniques, that's discouraging them on moral and legal grounds. I don't think anyone would argue that an illegal search of your home is an ineffective way to gather evidence.

    I agree that warrant law has to catch up with existing technology. You can't just wiretap a phone anymore - an enterprising terrorist can go buy 1,000 phones at a local Sam's Club and use a different phone every day for less than the cost of a couple of plane tickets, so we've got to find a way to spy on the bad guys without jeopardizing our privacy. Shutting down that debate isn't the answer.

    3) As I've said before, if a country has a free speech zone, what does that say about all of the spaces outside the zone? You can't be a little bit pregnant.

    Agreed, but this is a red herring. Free speech zones only matter when you want to literally get in the President's face about something, which is one of the least effective ways of protesting anyway. The chief benefit of free speech zones seems to be the political hay it allows opposition party members to make when they're used. It's been this way since Bill Clinton invented them in 1999.

    By Blogger Brian, at 6:14 PM, August 21, 2006  


  • Sigh all you like, man. If you're not claiming that a wiretap in Britain doesn't justify US policy, then please don't mention it and then start pulling all sorts of statements out of your ass about wiretapping in general. That's sloppy reasoning at best, mendacious at worst. It's exactly the same rhetorical technique that Bush used to conflate Iraq with 9/11. I expect better from you.

    My evidence is the thousands of people and billions of dollars that are currently using data mining

    Great. My evidence is from dozens of presentations that I've heard about at security conferences about how law enforcement officials are drowning in bad data; how these techniques have the impact of throwing more hay on top of the needles; and that what works is old-fashioned shoe leather investigation, which has been developed over a 140-year period since the founding of the Pinkerton Agency in conjunction with a legal system that supported it. That's my evidence.

    I might also argue that data mining might work better for corporations because, starting with the set of all people in supermarkets, a majority might have an interest in buying breakfast cereal from time to time. If the percentage of people willing to buy cereal were the same .00001% who are willing to blow up a plane with their shoes, perhaps your techniques are not so effective.

    It's a proven technique that's been growing in sophistication and usage for the last 7-8 years.

    Yeah, well, I'm not sure where you grabbed this number from, but I became activated on privacy issues back in 1988 by a Frontline documentary that covered data mining techniques over the previous twenty years. I mention this by way of saying that a) this is not new; b) of course, as a scientific technique, it has value; c) I kind of know what I'm talking about here.

    I have no opinion whatsoever on whether it's an effective technique for identifying terrorists

    In that case, you can take my word for it. Everything I've seen to date indicates it's useless. What I've seen are specifics. The "contrary evidence" that you're buying is a bunch of vague bullshit and hand-waving by people in power who don't actually tell you what they're doing. Like I said, show me the money -- and until then, stop blowing off the actual specifics that I can document.

    but you can't write it off as useless simply because someone with a lefty axe to grind declares it so.

    Ah, no wonder you're disregarding the experts in the field that I'm quoting, because clearly I'm a lefty and therefore I'm not trustworthy. Didn't realize that we had gotten to that level of argument -- you should have mentioned sooner, it would save me a lot of time.

    Please explain to me how this alone isn't reason to experiment with it in DHS, even if the data is so bad right now as to make it unusable for actual terrorist catching?

    For the same reason that we don't try to stop AIDS in America by attaching priapic monitors to every man in America. The data source matters. It also matters if we're throwing tons of money and resources at data mining, and starving traditional methods of enforcement.

    That's not questioning techniques, that's discouraging them on moral and legal grounds. I don't think anyone would argue that an illegal search of your home is an ineffective way to gather evidence.

    Of course I'm arguing that. "Evidence" is a legal term. If you can't introduce it in court, then what you've discovered is useless and your efforts are ineffective.

    What you're arguing is, "Do whatever you want, the rule of law is shot to hell, just get your data." Data, not evidence, since evidence is now a meaningless term by your standards. I don't agree that the rule of law is shot to hell; I do think that we should be using criminal rather than military methods to stop terrorism, and hence "evidence" is important; I do think that the protections that make evidence bulletproof are as much to protect America from bad prosecution as to protect the accused. So, yes, illegal search and seizure makes us unsafe on a visceral not-just-human-rights level, as it's going to arrest more non-terrorists and distract us from the real threats.

    The fact that I need to point this out to you continues to stun me.

    an enterprising terrorist can go buy 1,000 phones at a local Sam's Club and use a different phone every day for less than the cost of a couple of plane tickets

    Oh, please. You're watching too much CNN. An enterprising terrorist can use VOIP for untraceable encrypted communications, and doesn't need to buy 1,000 cell phones. This is another case where we're making people take off their shoes; three men are in jail in Michigan because they bought a lot of cell phones -- and hey, they're Arab, what a coincidence -- so you will feel better about the "cell phone" threat.

    Between cell phones, VOIP, email, text messages, and IM, communications are effectively untraceable in the aggregate. If you want to know what a bad guy is saying, you need to find the bad guy and get a warrant, and then do your investigative work.

    so we've got to find a way to spy on the bad guys without jeopardizing our privacy

    Agreed. This ain't it. Turns out that wiretapping is a historical accident based on the original use of copper wire, and that law enforcement has been contorting itself for years to adapt to new technologies. Adaptations that try to perpetuate the 1930s way of doing things don't work -- remember the Clipper chip?

    Free speech zones only matter when you want to literally get in the President's face about something, which is one of the least effective ways of protesting anyway. The chief benefit of free speech zones seems to be the political hay it allows opposition party members to make when they're used.

    Clause 1: you're wrong, they're used many more places than that. Clause 2: you're wrong, easily documented. Sentence 2: someday I want to hit you with a cluebat so you realize that when we're pissed on, we're not happy to tell people that it's raining.

    It's been this way since Bill Clinton invented them in 1999.

    Bill Clinton also promoted the Clipper chip and frequently had his head up his ass. We argued about this all through the 90s. Please stop trying to use him as this magic inoculation against my arguments, it's getting to be galling.

    By Anonymous Jeff Porten, at 1:56 PM, August 26, 2006  


  • Man, who pissed in your corn flakes? And to think I started all this with "Jeff Porten and I are pretty much in agreement on this one."

    That's sloppy reasoning at best, mendacious at worst. It's exactly the same rhetorical technique that Bush used to conflate Iraq with 9/11. I expect better from you.

    Well then, maybe we're on to something here: When someone says, "here's an interesting fact, but please don't take it to support this other story over here" and you promptly declare it misleading, sloppy subterfuge, then the problem is with you, not the speaker. To coin a phrase, I expect better from you.

    Yeah, well, I'm not sure where you grabbed this number from, but I became activated on privacy issues back in 1988 by a Frontline documentary that covered data mining techniques over the previous twenty years. I mention this by way of saying that a) this is not new; b) of course, as a scientific technique, it has value; c) I kind of know what I'm talking about here.

    Data mining is more than 10 years old in much the same way as the Internet is more than 15 years old. It existed back then, but it didn't take off in any meaningful way until the late 90's (when electronic commerce made data collection on a mass scale practical). And, no disrespect to the Frontline documentary or the dozens of presentations you've heard at security conferences, but in the late 90's, I helped build one of the leading CRM shops in the world, interviewed something like 50 vendors in the space, arranged sub-contracting deals with several of them, and spoke as a subject matter expert on the topic to various C-level executives and government officials. So I, too, kind of know what I'm talking about here.

    I might also argue that data mining might work better for corporations because, starting with the set of all people in supermarkets, a majority might have an interest in buying breakfast cereal from time to time. If the percentage of people willing to buy cereal were the same .00001% who are willing to blow up a plane with their shoes, perhaps your techniques are not so effective.

    Wow, you're way off here. Typical response rate for unsolicited marketing is less than 1% (2% is considered a good score). Don't think supermarket, think entire TV viewing audience. Obviously, the population of would-be terrorists is smaller by orders of magnitude, but that doesn't automatically disqualify the entire concept. As I said above, the arguments about civil liberties are much stronger (in this country). I'd suggest sticking with them...

    Like I said, show me the money -- and until then, stop blowing off the actual specifics that I can document.

    Funny you use that phrase - "show me the money." That's where data mining has been most successful - increased cross-sales, improved response rates for marketing campaigns, faster call resolution for customer service reps on 1-800 help lines, etc.

    So if your experts have proof of the techniques not working and my experts have proof of it working, what can we conclude? That one of our data sources is untrustworthy? Or possibly that, like most growing technologies, different applications produce different results, and further research usually leads to improvement?

    "Evidence" is a legal term. If you can't introduce it in court, then what you've discovered is useless and your efforts are ineffective.

    OK, you've jumped upon my misuse of the term "evidence" to accuse me of advocating illegal search and seizure. I suspect you know that's not what I meant. Illegal searches are effective ways of gathering data. My original point was that declaring them illegal is not the same as questioning their effectiveness. We discourage illegal searches because they're morally and legally wrong (I'm quoting myself here - from the part you either didn't read or conveniently ignored), not because we think they don't work.

    you need to find the bad guy and get a warrant, and then do your investigative work.

    Oh man - I'm saving that quote for posterity. You need to find the guy first, and then do your investigation? How do you suggest we find the guy? Magic 8 Ball? Psychic Friends Network?

    Yes, there's investigation after the warrant is obtained, but there's always investigation before the warrant too - that's how you make the case for needing a warrant. In the old days, it was stakeouts, private eyes, and wiretaps. These days, we need higher tech methods. I'm sure there were those who thought stakeouts were invasions of privacy too, although no one ever got a judge to say his 1st ammendment rights were violated because the feds were staking out someone in his neighborhood. Opportunity lost, I guess...

    Clause 1: you're wrong, they're used many more places than that. Clause 2: you're wrong, easily documented. Sentence 2: someday I want to hit you with a cluebat so you realize that when we're pissed on, we're not happy to tell people that it's raining.

    Ah, more easily obtainable documentation. OK, please show me a link to a news story about a free speech zone that wasn't setup in or around a POTUS, VPOTUS or Cabinet member appearance. And for Clause 2, show me just one example of someone who got what he/she wanted by waving a cardboard sign at the President...

    Please stop trying to use [Clinton] as this magic inoculation against my arguments

    That was poorly placed ironic humor. I wasn't making a serious point. Mea culpa...

    By Blogger Brian, at 2:58 PM, August 31, 2006  


  • Man, who pissed in your corn flakes?

    You have to ask? My Kellogg's have been getting progressively soggier for the last six years.

    When someone says, "here's an interesting fact, but please don't take it to support this other story over here" and you promptly declare it misleading, sloppy subterfuge, then the problem is with you, not the speaker

    And when someone says this explicitly and then proceeds to use a rhetorically misleading technique that was ancient when Marcus Aurelius was in toga diapers, I'm entitled to call it out.

    Data mining is more than 10 years old in much the same way as the Internet is more than 15 years old.

    Hmmm. Well, technically speaking, the Internet is older than we are by a few months. I'd imagine most people would say that it "really took off" when AOL set up its gateways in the early 90s, but even before then it was a very active place for around a half-million people. So I'm probably hair-splitting, but I don't know that drawing an arbitrary line and saying "before then is meaningless", is a particularly useful intellectual technique.

    I helped build one of the leading CRM shops in the world.... So I, too, kind of know what I'm talking about here.

    Stipulated that you know far more about writing these systems that I do, and about their corporate use. But just because you build the thing says nothing about your comprehension of the social impacts thereof -- we have about four thousand years of technological sociology proving that point.

    Wow, you're way off here. Typical response rate for unsolicited marketing is less than 1% (2% is considered a good score).

    Yes, I know. I've done marketing campaigns and I've done mass mailings. For the specific category of breakfast cereal in supermarkets, though, if it didn't get better than 2%, it wouldn't get an entire aisle. Move on to spam messages and newspaper inserts, and it's a different ballgame.

    That being said, your problem is that there is a tipping point when you translate the systems from marketing to terrorism. Data mining (and most aggregate data systems) are fantastic tools when you're trying to predict the actions of the mob, and you don't much care which individuals respond. Terrorism tools are trying to narrow down to -- what, 50? 100? -- people in the entire country who have some inclination to take those actions. That would never be a corporate data model because a population that small could never support a business model.

    Your implied argument (and the explicit argument of others) is that if we only improved those models, and tossed more data into the system, we could refine the microscope to the point where we can identify those 50 people. Personally, I think the system is too chaotic -- you'll never weed out the false positive rate to the point where you have that kind of focus. And the real effects of building the system have detrimental effects regardless of its success or failure.

    So if your experts have proof of the techniques not working and my experts have proof of it working, what can we conclude? That one of our data sources is untrustworthy? Or possibly that, like most growing technologies, different applications produce different results, and further research usually leads to improvement?

    Yes, your data source is untrustworthy, because you're applying it to a system whose parameters are too different to reach the conclusions you draw. Absolutely these techniques could be improved -- much as in the last 50 years we have learned how to make much larger nuclear bombs. Technological progress can always be furthered. That doesn't remove our obligation to decide whether something is worth doing.

    Personally, I'm highly confused why terrorism is the threat that generates all of this. I'm a hell of a lot more at risk from cars with bad drivers, people who don't shovel and de-ice their sidewalks, and random street crime. So are you. So is the entire country (well, for two out of three). We all take that for granted, but because some very bad shit went down five years ago, that's where we lose our minds?

    Illegal searches are effective ways of gathering data. My original point was that declaring them illegal is not the same as questioning their effectiveness.

    No, but it's a definite means of declaring their morality. We make things illegal not only because they're ineffective, but because they're wrong. We're in agreement on this point -- but then you seem to justify doing the wrong thing because it's effective, which I don't buy.

    Case in point: you want to put a stop to violent crime in the United States? Very simple. Just go to all the prisons, where we have a population that we know has a 60-80% recidivism rate upon release. Execute them all. Boom, you'll see a massive drop in the crime rate. That's highly effective. Why don't we do this? I'll leave that as an exercise for the reader.

    Oh man - I'm saving that quote for posterity. You need to find the guy first, and then do your investigation?

    My turn to be sloppy. Of course, I meant that your investigation identifies a suspect, which leads to a warrant, which leads to the parts of the investigation that the warrant allows. Sorry, I presumed this intent would be obvious.

    In the old days, it was stakeouts, private eyes, and wiretaps. These days, we need higher tech methods.

    You state this as if it's a fact, but it's not. Read any book about the CIA and you'll hear about an ongoing debate over the use of higher-tech SIGINT versus lower-tech HUMINT. (Signal and human intelligence.) No one is saying that we don't need SIGINT -- again, there's a 200-year track record in favor of it. But most experts that I'm aware of say that we're not doing nearly enough stakeouts and private eyes because we're putting too much faith in technology.

    Did it strike you as strange that we had a crying need for Arabic translators? Silly me, I had sort of presumed that the NSA and CIA would already have had the world's languages covered. Navajo and Cherokee, okay, those are obscure. Arabic? With 800 million native speakers?

    I'm sure there were those who thought stakeouts were invasions of privacy too, although no one ever got a judge to say his 1st ammendment rights were violated because the feds were staking out someone in his neighborhood. Opportunity lost, I guess...

    Yeah, again, you're making stuff up. There's a hundred years of case law on this -- IANAL, so I can't quote it at you, but this has been done. And it comes down to allowing stakeouts when the observing position and what is being observed are public. You don't have an expectation of privacy if someone wants to watch you drive to work. You do have an expectation of privacy if they want to watch you drive through private areas -- and we've spent a lot of time in court defining what "private" means in this case.

    OK, please show me a link to a news story about a free speech zone that wasn't setup in or around a POTUS, VPOTUS or Cabinet member appearance.

    Give me a hard one. 2004 political conventions -- the free speech zones were in place and enforced the entire time, regardless of who was scheduled to speak. They are also fairly common during large political protests downtown.

    And for Clause 2, show me just one example of someone who got what he/she wanted by waving a cardboard sign at the President...

    Another easy one. Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today? Those protests had a lot to do with his decision not to run in 1968.

    Beyond that, though, you're not trying to influence the president with your sign, you're trying to influence the people who might vote for that president. We've had this argument a dozen times, so I'd rather not reopen it, but let's just say that taking to the streets is the oldest form of politics, and that buys it credibility in my book.

    By Anonymous Jeff Porten, at 6:37 PM, September 04, 2006  


  • I meant that your investigation identifies a suspect, which leads to a warrant, which leads to the parts of the investigation that the warrant allows. Sorry, I presumed this intent would be obvious.
    [...]
    Your implied argument (and the explicit argument of others) is that if we only improved those models, and tossed more data into the system, we could refine the microscope to the point where we can identify those 50 people. Personally, I think the system is too chaotic -- you'll never weed out the false positive rate to the point where you have that kind of focus. And the real effects of building the system have detrimental effects regardless of its success or failure.


    OK, I think my original point about data mining got lost in the discussion here. I'm not suggesting you'd use data mining to find the 50 would-be terrorists. I'm suggesting the data mining is the investigation that identifies the suspects. From there, you figure out who warrants a warrant.

    The difference between data mining and the other pre-warrant techniques is that data mining is much more quantitative, and there's a definitive list of whose names are in the result set of "potential warrants." Your point seems to be that if your name is on that list, the government is unfairly suspecting you of a crime, and that violates your civil rights. I've been trying to tease out the social stigma from the investigative value of this, but it's very difficult to separate the two...

    Did it strike you as strange that we had a crying need for Arabic translators? Silly me, I had sort of presumed that the NSA and CIA would already have had the world's languages covered. Navajo and Cherokee, okay, those are obscure. Arabic? With 800 million native speakers?

    Yes, it does. Does it also strike you as strange that we are firing these people because they're gay? Talk about your stupid application of an already stupid policy...

    By Blogger Brian, at 10:58 PM, September 07, 2006  


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