Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Well-respected US judge calls for wholesale electronic surveillance of US citiziens

This is one of the more interesting and surprising Op-ed pieces I have seen in a while. While most commentators are upset over the most recent revelations about domestic surveillance in the US, Justice Richard Posner of the US 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has written an opinion piece for the Washington Post calling for more widespread electronic surveillance of Americans. He argues that the review by computers is not an invasion of privacy, since it is only sifted by a computer rather than an actual person.

Our Domestic Intelligence Crisis

These programs are criticized as grave threats to civil liberties. They are not. Their significance is in flagging the existence of gaps in our defenses against terrorism. The Defense Department is rushing to fill those gaps, though there may be better ways.

The collection, mainly through electronic means, of vast amounts of personal data is said to invade privacy. But machine collection and processing of data cannot, as such, invade privacy. Because of their volume, the data are first sifted by computers, which search for names, addresses, phone numbers, etc., that may have intelligence value. This initial sifting, far from invading privacy (a computer is not a sentient being), keeps most private data from being read by any intelligence officer.

I expect we'll be hearing a lot about this piece as Justice Posner is not prone to ill-conceived or knee-jerk statements.

For some discussion and review, see Concurring Opinions: Judge Posner's Troubling Call for Massive Surveillance.

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