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Leave Numbers-Based Suspicion To Vegas – Not The NSA, FBI and DOJ

July 26, 2013 by  

What does it mean to be “51 percent” certain that something is true? It means you’re more certain than not – but certainly not certain. It might mean you’re fine with admitting you’d been wrong, if it turns out the other 49 percent in that simplistic ratio proved correct.

When the National Security Agency (NSA) or a Federal law enforcement entity – whether it’s the Department of Justice, FBI or Department of homeland Security – starts querying its massive computer databases for specific “non-U.S. persons” as defined by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), all they need is a 51 percent suspicion that the person they’re about to secretly track online isn’t an American citizen.

From the original Washington Post story that revealed details about the NSA’s PRISM internet spy program:

Analysts who use the system from a Web portal at Fort Meade, Md., key in “selectors,” or search terms, that are designed to produce at least 51 percent confidence in a target’s “foreignness.” That is not a very stringent test. Training materials obtained by The Post instruct new analysts to make quarterly reports of any accidental collection of U.S. content, but add that “it’s nothing to worry about.”

Those of you who gamble: if an oddsmaker told you to bet your fortune because he was “51 percent sure” that your sports team would cover the spread, would you flinch when he told you the 49 percent of doubt was “nothing to worry about?”

When and if Congress revises the bevy of laws governing what the NSA, DOJ, FBI and DHS can and can’t do, it needs to leave numeric-based probability to the Vegas bookies – and leave it out of the burgeoning U.S. surveillance state.

Ben Bullard

Reconciling the concept of individual sovereignty with conscientious participation in the modern American political process is a continuing preoccupation for staff writer Ben Bullard. A former community newspaper writer, Bullard has closely observed the manner in which well-meaning small-town politicians and policy makers often accept, unthinkingly, their increasingly marginal role in shaping the quality of their own lives, as well as those of the people whom they serve. He argues that American public policy is plagued by inscrutable and corrupt motives on a national scale, a fundamental problem which individuals, families and communities must strive to solve. This, he argues, can be achieved only as Americans rediscover the principal role each citizen plays in enriching the welfare of our Republic.

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