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Archive for Friday, May 12, 2006

Some wonder if NSA will track e-mails, cell phone calls next

May 12, 2006

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— If the National Security Agency is indeed amassing a colossal database of Americans' phone records, one way to use all that information is in "social network analysis," a data-mining method that aims to expose previously invisible connections among people.

Social network analysis has gained prominence in business and intelligence circles under the belief that it can yield extraordinary insights, such as the fact that people in disparate organizations have common acquaintances. Companies can buy social networking software to help determine who has the best connections for a particular sales pitch.

So it did not surprise many security analysts to learn Thursday from USA Today that the NSA is applying the technology to billions of phone records.

"Who you're talking to often matters much more than what you're saying," said Bruce Schneier, a computer security expert and author of "Beyond Fear: Thinking Sensibly About Security in an Uncertain World."

The NSA declined to comment. But several experts said it seemed likely the agency would want to assemble a picture from more than just landline phone records. Other forms of communication, including cell phone calls, e-mails and instant messages, likely are trackable targets as well, at least on international networks if not inside the U.S.

To be sure, monitoring newer communications services is probably more difficult than getting billing records from landline phones.

Among Internet service providers, representatives for AOL LLC said the company complies with individual government subpoenas and court orders but does not have a blanket program for broader sharing of customer data. Microsoft Corp. had "never engaged in the type of activity referenced in these articles," according to a statement from Scott Charney, its vice president for trustworthy computing. Google Inc. spokesman Steve Langdon said his company does not participate, either.

Yahoo Inc. officials say they comply with subpoenas, but refused to elaborate, saying they cannot comment on specific government interactions.

Privacy activists worry that the government is likely to try to overcome surveillance gaps by making more use of the information it does have - by cross-referencing phone or other records with commercially harvested data.

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Richard Heckler 7 years, 11 months ago

Bush Dips Into the 20s

President Bushââ /¢s job-approval rating has fallen to its lowest mark of his presidency, according to a new Harris Interactive poll. Of 1,003 U.S. adults surveyed in a telephone poll, 29% think Mr. Bush is doing an ââ Åexcellent or pretty goodââ  job as president, down from 35% in April and significantly lower than 43% in January. Approval ratings for Congress overall also sank, and now stand at 18%.

Roughly one-quarter of U.S. adults say ââ Åthings in the country are going in the right direction,ââ  while 69% say ââ Åthings have pretty seriously gotten off on the wrong track.ââ  This has been the trend since January, when 33% said the nation was heading in the right direction. Iraq remains a key concern for the general public, as 28% of Americans said they consider Iraq to be one of the top two most important issues the government should address, up from 23% in April. The immigration debate also prompted 16% of Americans to consider it a top issue, down from 19% last month, but still sharply higher from 4% in March.

The Harris poll comes two days after a downbeat assessement of Bush in a New York Times/CBS News poll. The Times, in analyzing the results, said ââ ÅAmericans have a bleaker view of the countryââ /¢s direction than at any time in more than two decades.ââ Â

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