Is the NSA Really Abuse-Proof?

President Obama, General Alexander (the Director of the NSA), and Senator Dianne Feinstein (Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence) have all assured us that we needn't worry about NSA snooping on Americans because the NSA has several systems in place to monitor and prevent abuse. Putting aside for the moment what future governments might choose to do with this information, should we feel reassured by these assurances?

Those of you familiar with Betteridge's Law of Headlines already know the answer. Anyone familiar with problems arising from restricted data know that one of the most frequent abuses is the tracking of spouses, ex-spouses, and love interests. One frequently hears, for example, of someone abusing police databases for these very purposes. It turns out that the NSA is not immune. These abuses are, the NSA apologists assure us, very rare and harshly dealt with.

What to make of, then, this AP story? It appears that Edward Snowden had no problem defeating the logging and monitoring systems that should have alerted the NSA to what he was doing. The truth is that the NSA has no idea what documents Snowden took because he made sure to leave minimal footprints.

These two stories together suggest that NSA management really has no idea who's abusing the system and that all their assurances are worthless. These are smart people and they surely know this. That makes it worse because it means they're lying to us and that leads to the next question: what else are they hiding.

It seems that, once again, Betteridge was right.

Update: needed → needn't

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