Thoughtworks Lead IT Analyst Dmytri Kleiner says that the plan would allow telecom giants to retain consumer’s personal data without regulations on access and retention, allowing for continued violation of civil liberties
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.
The Obama administration is proposing that the National Security Agency end its bulk collection of telephone data. According to the proposal, the NSA would no longer hold five years’ worth of metadata records. It would also be required to obtain permission from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, known as FISC, before it could access the legally mandated 18 months of phone records currently held by telecommunication companies. But, still, the proposal would allow the NSA greater access to cellphone data.
Joining us now to discuss the significance of this proposal is Dmytri Kleiner. Dmytri is a lead IT analyst at ThoughtWorks and author of the book The Telekommunist Manifesto.
Thank you for joining us, Dmytri.
DMYTRI KLEINER, LEAD IT ANALYST, THOUGHTWORKS: Thank you. Nice to be here.
DESVARIEUX: So, Dmytri, first off, just remind our viewers what metadata reveals. And how does the NSA use it for intelligence gathering?
KLEINER: Well, metadata reveals who was phoning who. So in the phone records and the call records of the telephone company, they have information about who the person is that’s phoning which person, what the length of the call is, etc. So it’s a bunch of data. And this data can be cross-referenced with other data from the building system of the telephone company, for instance, to find out about who the person is, what their name is, where they live, etc., what their building background is. So all of that is metadata.
DESVARIEUX: Now, Dmytri, what’s your take on President Obama’s proposal? Does it represent a closer integration of telecommunication firms into the intelligence activities of the U.S. government? Or will we see a greater respect for civil liberties?
KLEINER: So the comments made by Obama are essentially about the conduct of the NSA and how much data they are allowed to harvest, in terms of how much data about American citizens and other people in the world is the NSA allowed to keep records for, specifically telephone records and the bulk harvesting of them.
But the fact remains that the NSA is only collecting data, only harvesting data that is already being kept by the private companies, like the phone companies and other companies that collect data about users. And so, so long as these companies see this data as an asset, that the companies look at this data as something that can help them achieve their business objectives by harvesting it and by studying it, by compiling it, and also by sharing it with others, including intelligence agencies, that they see this data as being something that will help them make a profit. And so long as that’s the case, it’s hard to imagine that that data will be shared within the company, between the companies, but the NSA will somehow not have access to it. So, so long as private companies are allowed to retain data, then intelligence agencies will also be able to access that data by some means at some point when they need to and when they want to.
DESVARIEUX: How long are they able to actually retain this data?
KLEINER: Well, I don’t think there’s any limits on how long they can retain the data. The requirement’s that they have to retain it for a certain length. And I think those requirements were written at a time before companies really considered their data an asset. And so holding data for a long period of time may have been a liability or may have been perceived to be a burden.
But these days, you know, the common logic that companies use is that storage is cheap and that data is therefore an important asset they want to keep as much of as possible.
So, in terms of regulation, I don’t think it’s so much important anymore to talk about how long companies are required to keep data for, but rather how long they’re [allowed] to keep data for [and, more specifically,] what data they’re allowed to have, to keep about their customers and to share with whom.
DESVARIEUX: So, Dmytri, what can people do to actually prohibit companies from using their data as an asset? ‘Cause I’m thinking, myself, I’m not a techie. How could I protect my privacy?
KLEINER: Well, I mean, on the techie side of it, there certainly are ways you can use communications more privately. You can use cryptography. I can choose to–you can choose not to share data on social networks and things like that. And you should learn about those things and you should do them when you can.
But I think as a society we have to understand that most people will not become experts in their own data security or privacy, so we have to look at these questions socially. And the fact is is that so long as we require private corporations to build our communication systems, we have to understand that their motivation is to make profit. And if they cannot capture profit, then they cannot exist; they go bankrupt and they disappear. So if we have communication platforms based on the profit motive, we have to understand that they’re likely going to see the data we generate as an asset and collect it and share it with other organizations [incompr.] the intelligence organizations.
But if you look at the history of communications, if you look at older platforms, if you call them platforms, the telephone system, the mail system–even to some degree highways can be considered communication media–and if you look at the laws and regulations that govern these things, they’re a lot more concerned about people’s rights on these platforms, people’s privacy on these platforms, because they’re built by the public. And I think that if we realistically want to have communication platforms that respect our rights, that respect our privacy, then we cannot look for profit-making corporations that deliver them, and the public sector has to play a lot greater role in terms of provisioning and regulating these platforms.
DESVARIEUX: Alright. Dmytri Kleiner, thank you so much for joining us.
KLEINER: Thank you.
DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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