Home > Uncategorized > If NSA’s Cyber-Snooping Is So Effective, Why Can’t It Do Any Thing Vaguely Useful? Like (Pour Me a Beer or) Fix No-Fly List

If NSA’s Cyber-Snooping Is So Effective, Why Can’t It Do Any Thing Vaguely Useful? Like (Pour Me a Beer or) Fix No-Fly List

I saw a funny clip of comedian Lewis Black on the Daily Show the other day.  When discussing Microsoft’s new Kinect system that can interpret user expressions and even skin changes, Lewis raised a middle finger, and told Microsoft to “F* off”.  Then, when a follow up clip showed that some guy built a robot that determine when a person needed beer refill, and pour beer for that person, based on Kinect system’s computer vision, Lewis sarcastically but humbly apologized to Microsoft, and said, any amount of privacy is worth sacrificing, if you can get a robot to pour me a beer.

Then, I thought today, hey, why couldn’t NSA use their cyber-snooping for something actually useful?

For example, if that PRISM is so powerful and so useful, why is the “No Fly List” still so screwed up??  http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2012/10/left-behind-by-no-fly-list/

That story from last year, 2012, was about a military personnel’s husband, (and also an ex-military contractor), who got booted off a flight to Japan, and got stuck in Hawaii, because he got put on the infamous “No Fly List” in mid-air flying from US mainland to Hawaii.

Now, I’m not much of an expert in US government data, but I’m pretty sure that military personnels’ records (including most of their spouses’) are already accessible by the US government computers.  No privacy issues there.  And YET, whatever blackhole of a system they are using, they still couldn’t tell that some US soldier’s husband is NOT a terrorist!!

The infamous (and some what forgotten) “NO Fly List”, is yet another example of government Secrecy gone nuts.  You can get put on the LIST, without knowing about it, until you get stuck somewhere, and then you don’t know who to talk to to get yourself off the LIST!  (It’s grown now to over 20,000 names, with at least 500-600 American citizens, but still a short list).

So, some have defended SECRECY like PRISM program as useful to catch terrorists.  OK, that’s a bit vague, but I’m willing to see the evidence and give PRISM a chance.

So, here is my simple challenge:

If PRISM was designed to track down terrorists, then let it clean up the “No Fly List”.

Surely, with all that data PRISM has access to, it should be able to tell that when some guy is going to board a plane that he actually is some US military personnel’s husband!

There you go, a “pour me a beer” simple test for PRISM.  I won’t actually ask that PRISM catch a real terrorist and show the public (that’s somewhat more difficult), but I think my test is pretty fair:  Do something simple and useful with that data.

If PRISM can do it, then maybe it deserves another chance.  (Then, maybe we can see if PRISM actually could catch a terrorist).

If PRISM can’t even clean up a short list of 20,000, so that no innocent people are stuck at an airport wondering why their names are even on the LIST, then obviously US government’s access to all that private information is just useless and pointless.

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  1. June 14th, 2013 at 15:38 | #1

    One of the key problems I have within the American discourse over this scandal is the utter lack of respect for people who are not of U.S. nationality. The narrative invariably is this: foreign nationals deserve no privacy. If they are stupid enough to use Google, Apple, Twitter, Microsoft, etc, oh well, too bad. Everything is fare game.

    People outside the U.S. are people too. There is no due process even for American citizens. So, not a chance for foreign nationals.

    What the self-absorbed American press and politician don’t quite understand is how arrogant they come across to the rest of the world. So much for their Internet “freedom” bullshit. They don’t even understand their religion. So, yes, Catholic priests can preach, but they also molest children.

    The American press won’t talk about this, but I expect the U.S. to relinquish control of the Internet to a multi-national treaty eventually, and we will look back to PRISM an acceleration in that direction:


    The controversy over who controls the Internet has simmered in insular technology-policy circles for years and more recently has crept into formal diplomatic talks. Many governments feel that, like the phone network, the Internet should be administered under a multilateral treaty. ICANN, in their view, is an instrument of American hegemony over cyberspace: its private-sector approach favors the United States, Washington retains oversight authority, and its Governmental Advisory Committee, composed of delegates from other nations, has no real powers.

    This discontent finally boiled over at the UN’s World Summit on the Information Society, the first phase of which was held in Geneva in December 2003 (the second phase is set for November in Tunis). Brazil and South Africa have criticized the current arrangement, and China has called for the creation of a new international treaty organization. France wants an intergovernmental approach, but one fundamentally based on democratic values.{See Footnote 1} Cuba and Syria have taken advantage of the controversy to poke a finger in Washington’s eye, and even Zimbabwe’s tyrant, Robert Mugabe, has weighed in, calling the existing system of Internet governance a form of neocolonialism…

  2. Zack
    June 14th, 2013 at 18:16 | #2

    this utter disrespect for non americans is highly disturbing but doesn’t come as a surprise. This is American Exceptionalism at its worst.

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