February 7, 2023

Court Upbraided N.S.A. on Its Use of Call-Log Data

It was the second case of a severe scolding of the spy agency by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to come to light since the disclosure of thousands of N.S.A. documents by Edward J. Snowden, a former contractor, began this summer.

The newly disclosed violations involved the N.S.A. program that has drawn perhaps the sharpest criticism from members of Congress and civil libertarians: the collection and storage for five years of information on virtually every phone call made in the United States. The agency uses orders from the intelligence court to compel phone companies to turn over records of numbers called and the time and duration of each call — the “metadata,” not the actual content of the calls.

Since Mr. Snowden disclosed the program, the agency has said that while it gathers data on billions of calls, it makes only a few hundred queries in the database each year, when it has “reasonable, articulable suspicion” that a telephone number is connected to terrorism.

But the new documents show that the agency also compares each day’s phone call data as it arrives with an “alert list” of thousands of domestic and foreign phone numbers that it has identified as possibly linked to terrorism.

The agency told the court that all the numbers on the alert list had met the legal standard of suspicion, but that was false. In fact, only about 10 percent of 17,800 phone numbers on the alert list in 2009 had met that test, a senior intelligence official said.

In a sharply worded March 2009 ruling, Judge Reggie B. Walton described the N.S.A.’s failure to comply with rules set by the intelligence court, set limits on how it could use the data it had gathered, and accused the agency of repeatedly misinforming the judges.

“The government has compounded its noncompliance with the court’s orders by repeatedly submitting inaccurate descriptions of the alert list process” to the court, Judge Walton wrote. “It has finally come to light that the F.I.S.C.’s authorizations of this vast collection program have been premised on a flawed depiction of how the N.S.A. uses” the phone call data.

The senior American intelligence official, briefing reporters before the documents’ release, admitted the sting of the court’s reprimand but said the problems came in a complex, highly technical program and were unintentional.

“There was nobody at N.S.A. who really had a full understanding of how the program was operating at the time,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The official noted that the agency itself discovered the problem, reported it to the court and to Congress, and worked out new procedures that the court approved.

In making public 14 documents on the Web site of the director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper Jr., the intelligence officials were acting in response to Freedom of Information Act lawsuits and a call from President Obama for greater transparency about intelligence programs. The lawsuits were filed by two advocacy groups, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union.

“The documents only begin to uncover the abuses of the huge databases of information the N.S.A. has of innocent Americans’ calling records,” said Mark M. Jaycox, a policy analyst at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. He said the agency’s explanation — that none of its workers fully understood the phone metadata program — showed “how much of a rogue agency the N.S.A. has become.”

Judge Walton’s ruling, originally classified as top secret, did not go that far. But he wrote that the privacy safeguards approved by the court “have been so frequently and systematically violated” that they “never functioned effectively.”

Nicole Perlroth contributed reporting.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/11/us/court-upbraided-nsa-on-its-use-of-call-log-data.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Bits Blog: Google Adds Posts From Its Social Network to Search Results

Google excels at responding to search queries with links to Web pages, but those have become old-fashioned. These days, the company has concluded, Internet users increasingly want to find conversations and photos posted by their friends on the social Web.

On Tuesday, Google plans to take its biggest step yet toward incorporating social networking posts from its Google+ service into its search results.

Google says that the new feature, which it calls Search Plus Your World, is one of the biggest changes it has ever made to its search results. People will see posts and photos from their friends, profiles of their friends when they search people’s names, and conversations occurring on Google+ related to topics they search.

“What you search today is largely written by people you don’t know; we call that the faceless Web,” said Amit Singhal, a Google fellow who oversees search. “Search Plus Your World transforms search and centers it around you.”

Google has risked being shunted aside for failing to get on board with the social Web. Its new offering comes eight years after Facebook started and in the weeks before it is expected to file for an initial public offering, the most eagerly anticipated tech offering since Google went public and what is likely to be the crowning moment for the new social Web.

To keep up, Larry Page, Google’s chief executive, prioritized social networking after high-profile fumbles, like the Buzz social networking service, and tense volleys with Facebook, which does not allow Google to include most of its pages in search results.

Last summer, the company introduced Google+. From the beginning, the idea was not to replace Facebook, but to supply Google with social information that it could use in its other products, mainly search.

Search Plus Your World is the result of that. When Google users are logged into a Google service, like Gmail, their search results will show posts from people they have included in their circles on Google+.

For instance, for most users, a search for “chikoo” would show links and photos of an Indian fruit. But for friends of Mr. Singhal, it would also show photos and posts about his dog, who is named Chikoo. A search for a sports team would show, in addition to the usual links, conversations about the team among a user’s friends on Google+.

People only see personal posts if they have access to those posts on Google+, either because the posts are public, or because they have chosen to include the person who posted the items in a Google+ circle and the person has shared the items with them.

In addition, when people search for a name, Google will automatically suggest people who are friends with the person on Google+ or prominent people. And when people search for general topics, like “music” or “cooking,” Google will show related Google+ conversations on the right-hand side of search results.

Google users can click a link on the search results page to see only personal posts, or to turn off the new feature and see only the standard search results. For users who are signed in to Google, all search results will be encrypted using a secure connection.

Users who are not on Google+ will see items they have shared with Google, like photos they have uploaded to its Picasa service, and items posted publicly on Google+ by people that Google assumes they know because they communicate with them on Gmail, for instance.

Google+ has its fair share of spam-like comments and uninteresting posts. Mr. Singhal said Google has created algorithms to only show the most relevant posts in search results. For example, it guesses how close a user is to a friend on Google+ based on how often they communicate and which of a user’s circles are most relevant to them based on how often they contact people in the circles.

“Our job is to provide relevant suggestions, and just because someone is discussing something on Google+, if it’s not prominent enough, we don’t want to bring it to the search results page,” Mr. Singhal said.

What if spam-like Google+ posts written by a friend still make their way to search results? “Then you have to re-evaluate being friends with him,” Mr. Singhal said.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=9876f623fdef11778b75916b8e09ffbc

Bucks: Post Your Children’s Reaction to Elmo’s Money Videos

So here’s a little homework assignment, jumping off this weekend’s Your Money column, which reviews the first big efforts by “Sesame Street” to bring money lessons to the preschool set.

Sit your child (or grandchildren or nieces or nephews or special friends) down in front of the computer and play the videos for them. What questions do they ask? What questions did you ask after they watched it? And what probing queries or funny responses did they come up with?

I was curious enough about the whole enterprise to seek out Elmo in person this week.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=5c9d0a660d602a49bb19b21e7b1790bd