Dr. Shoeb Amin sent an important e-mail , which is posted here and my comments are at the bottom.
Comments by Dr. Shoeb Amin
“As part of the discussion re the activities of the NSA, a question was raised if you should worry about the NSA collecting our private data, if you had done nothing criminal or you had nothing to hide. The case of Brandon Mayfield – described in the link above – was given as an example of why you SHOULD worry even if you had nothing to hide. After having read the whole article, i find that it was the FBI’s I unprofessional conduct and not secret eavesdropping that was at fault. I agree that innocent people do get into legal trouble sometimes but given the choice of preserving my privacy vs. increasing my safety, i would lean towards safety. It is true that the NSA has not provided concrete evidence of any terrorist acts thwarted by their activity, it is certainly possible that people w/ bad intentions know someone’s watching and are wary of being caught.
I would like people who were at the meeting on 4/27/14 and even those that were not present to share their views re. privacy vs. security.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brandon_Mayfield”
Comments By F. Sheikh
It is a good topic to have discussion and question raised by Dr. Shoeb was the main crust of my talk. Unfortunately I did not write the article in full and wrote notes on the main points for discussion. It is appropriate that I should write my thoughts on this point so that there is some basis for the discussion.
I think since 9/11 a lot has been achieved for security of our country and we are much safer now, but no matter how much more we spend in money and human life, it can never be 100% risk proof. There will always be some sporadic incidence of terrorism, both external and internal. I think we are either already at that stage where throwing more money and compromising our civil liberties may add very little to the national security and might even do more harm than good. As I pointed out in the lecture, the NSA is very important entity for cybersecurity not just for our country but for the whole world.
During a Senate hearing in March 2013, the nation’s top intelligence officials warned that cyber-attacks and digital spying are the top threat to national security, eclipsing terrorism.
Unfortunately because of recent revelations, as per David Ignatus of Washington Post, the NSA has lost the trust of many foreign countries who are now building their own networks without the involvement of US technology companies, which they think are in bed with NSA. It will cost US companies billion of dollars and future of cyber-security is also in jeopardy. As per article sent by Dr. Shoeb,( Meta-Data http://www.huffingtonpost.com/geoffrey-r-stone/nsa-meta-data_b_4499934.html
) the last paragraph reads;
“The Review Group concluded that the information obtained through the section 215 telephony meta-data programs had not proved necessary to the prevention of any planned terrorist attack since the program’s inception in 2006. At the same time, though, it is certainly possible to imagine a situation in which the section 215 program might produce highly valuable information.”
It is obvious that after eight years, any benefit from the Surveillance program is still speculative, but it has inadvertently undermined the cyber-security, which is even more dangerous than terrorism. During the same surveillance period unfortunately Boston Marathon Bombing took place.
As Dr. Shoeb pointed out about Bradon Mayfield case, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brandon_Mayfield)
and rightfully said that it was abuse of law by FBI, but let us look at the case from ramifications of collection of vast Meta-Data,heightened environment and how innocent citizens can get tangled into the web.
The brief story of case. Mr Mayfield is an American born and educated attorney in Oregon. His wife is Egyptian and he is a converted Muslim. He was arrested 20 years ago, unknown case, and has defended one person with terrorist charges. In 2004 Madrid bombing took place. Spanish authorities sent suspect finger prints to FBI who matched it against its own data base. Its results showed 20 matches in USA. The investigation included medical records, financial records, employment records, etc. on all 20 people and their families. It was during this time that Brandon Mayfield’s name rose to the top of the list. The Spanish authorities informed FBI twice that they have possible suspect here and you have wrong person as suspect. The FBI disregarded all this and eventually arrested Mr. Mayfield as material witness without giving any access or information to family or attorney.
After Spanish authorities arrested the actual suspect, who also confessed the crime, the FBI has no choice but to release Mr. Mayfield but a gag order was imposed on him. Later gag order was lifted, Mr. Mayfield sued the FBI and a settlement was reached with FBI with 2 million dollars as settlement.
Apart from FBI’s abuse of law and possible religious discrimination, the case shows following problems on the direction, we as freest nation on earth are heading;
1- If we have vast non specific data, it will show in greater number false positive (innocent suspects) results. FBI has vast data and showed 20 innocent people as suspect in Mayfield case. All of them went through FBI investigation and their all the records , including medical and financial were collected.
2- Mr. Mayfield was wrongly arrested. It was not just that FBI abused the Law, but FBI agents were working under heightened zero risk tolerance environment which took precedent over common sense approach. They were scared of consequences of letting a Muslim suspect free and ignored evidence from Spanish authorities.
3- !9 other suspects were not arrested, but they also went through FBI investigation. They are innocent but what will happen to their record in FBI computer files? Will it pop up at airports or other places for unrelated investigation? We know many people say they have no idea why their names are on no fly list. They spend hours on Airport for clearance. What if anyone of them innocently gets matched again?
4- As the article by Dr. Shoeb pointed out, collection of telephone data has similar problem. It can include lot of false positive (innocent suspects).
Just because we are doing more, spending more resources and compromising our civil liberties, does not necessarily makes us safer. At some point, it does more harm than good. I think we as a nation, are at that point now.The same resources can be used for other important issues-like cyber-security.
P.S. Any computer expert will tell you that once a data is on computer, it is almost impossible to get rid of it.
Fayyaz A. Sheikh