Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Spam Filter

From the New York Times:

In the anxious months after the Sept. 11 attacks, the National Security Agency began sending a steady stream of telephone numbers, e-mail addresses and names to the F.B.I. in search of terrorists. The stream soon became a flood, requiring hundreds of agents to check out thousands of tips a month.

F.B.I. officials repeatedly complained to the spy agency that the unfiltered information was swamping investigators. The spy agency was collecting much of the data by eavesdropping on some Americans’ international communications and conducting computer searches of phone and Internet traffic. Some F.B.I. officials and prosecutors also thought the checks, which sometimes involved interviews by agents, were pointless intrusions on Americans’ privacy.

As the bureau was running down those leads, its director, Robert S. Mueller III, raised concerns about the legal rationale for a program of eavesdropping without warrants, one government official said. Mr. Mueller asked senior administration officials about “whether the program had a proper legal foundation,” but deferred to Justice Department legal opinions, the official said.

President Bush has characterized the eavesdropping program as a “vital tool” against terrorism; Vice President Dick Cheney has said it has saved “thousands of lives.”

Not only is it questionable on legal and constitutional grounds, this kind of info dump is a huge waste of time and resources. As John at AMERICAblog noted, getting tons of information without any kind of discretion or interpretation is the same as spam, and at some point you ignore everything, including potentially important stuff.

It occurs to me that if President Bush and Vice President Cheney think this is a “vital tool,” then I feel perfectly comfortable in forwarding that urgent message I got this morning from the Nigerian widow who wants me to share her $250,000 inheritance.