Listening to the global network: PBS' "The Spy Factory" documentary focuses on the NSA and privacy

Some used to be puzzled while discovering the measures deployed to intercept all sorts of communication between individuals on behalf of the Echelon project. In the Spy Factory, a documentary recently broadcast on PBS, James Bamford, a former National Security Agency analyst and author of the Shadow Factory,intends to clarify questionable facts with regards to the last decade’s telecommunications coverage by the Agency. On behalf of homeland security, millions of phone calls, fax and email exchanges are permanently monitored. We’re referring to petabytes of data which are parsimoniously analyzed and stored.  The NSA’s hope: to detect potential risks susceptible to threatening citizens of the US, a nation that promoted freedom across the past two centuries. As a result the same issues are raised over and over again: Should the government strictly apply laws expected to protect information privacy to maintain an oversight on potential terrorist activities?

Since the War on Terror unavoidably leads to investigation reinforcements in foreign countries, not only American citizens have to worry about seeing a special entrance ticket in the NSA life-streaming machinery. While text mining algorithms are tested to retrieve suspicious correlations between individuals, events and places, full-time employees are doing the job that no advanced piece of hardware can do at this time – listening to telephone conversations that expose people lives without their consent.

In particular, European citizens may feel utterly concerned by the NSA’s data usage that may only be accomplished from the collection of records without their explicit consent. Indeed, why would some of them be preoccupied at the higher level by the present surveillance of their movements? These same Europeans were not phased at all by third party wiretapping?  A better understanding of today’s global communication network may help in realizing how far ISPs can go in transferring signals emitted or received by individuals located all around the world to government agencies.

Nonetheless, wondering how putting together this tremendous amount of data would help in the fight against terrorist plans remains a fair question since it didn’t prevent the 9/11 attacks. One could say the collection was not big enough in 2001 as opposed to the plethora of sources revealed in the documentary.  The 9/11 hijackers were well-known and their activities tracked, but without the wider surveillance, their intentions were most likely never unveiled.

The transcripts for the Spy Factory make the documentary even more valuable.


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