As time passes, it seems increasingly unlikely that we’ll ever get to the bottom of the telecom-NSA phonetap story. Nonetheless, a question comes to mind which is perhaps worthy of some contemplation, especially for those outside the United States, who are of course “fair game” for the NSA’s surveillance.

Domestically, it has been suggested by various parties that a tactic to thwart (government) eavesdropping is to, during a telephone conversation, mention something to the effect that “I have every reason to believe this call is confidential and unmonitored, in accordance with my constitutional right to privacy”. I doubt this actually has the intended effect, but it raises an interesting point for people outside the United States:

Currently, for surveillance and intercept purposes, anyone outside the U.S. is presumed to be foreign, and thereby a legal target, unless information suggesting otherwise is discovered. If you’re really worried that the NSA might be monitoring your telephone calls, might answering the phone “Hello, this is Pierre, American citizen and proud patriot” provide some measure of security? Probably not, I admit – but as an act of protest, it’s no less useful than occasionally dropping into conversation terms like “plastic explosives”, “weaponized anthrax”, and “antiwar demonstration”…

I mean, much like “I’m Brian, and so’s my wife”, it has to be worth a try, right? 🙂

Published in: 'D' for 'Dumb', Geekiness, General | on May 7th, 2008| 3 Comments »

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  1. On 5/8/2008 at 12:25 am Watching Them, Watching Us Said:

    Won’t such Keywords simply be picked up by United Kingdom / Canada Australis / New Zealand partner intelligence agencies through their “Dictionary” systems, (i.e. ECHELON), and then the Communications Traffic Data and possibly, later, the content of those telephone conversations, faxes, emails, instant messages, blog comments, chatroom conversations, web e-commerce transactions etc. might be handed over to the US authorities, skirting around the NSA’s domestic spying ban, like they have been doing since the 1948 UK/USA agreement ?

  2. On 5/8/2008 at 1:21 pm Nemo Said:

    That’s certainly possible. I personally believe that using the UK as an example in any discussion of this sort is a bad idea, because standards and expectations of privacy there are so much different than in, well, parts of the world which aren’t Orwellian surveillance societies. I was thinking more in terms of folks from smaller countries which have, if not less love for, then less cooperation with, the United States – Belgium, say, or Norway, for whom the demonstrated and admitted capabilities of the National Security Agency and its global reach probably instill greater respect/fear than MI-whatever, or their own countries’ security services.

    For a lot of us, I think, it’s purely academic interest: The NSA has (essentially) free reign to monitor and intercept communications to or from foreign locations, except when a “U.S. Person” is a party to that communication. Upon determining that a USP is a party to a monitored communication, the Agency is supposed to immediately cease monitoring, and destroy any copies of the communication in their possession. The big question is how they identify U.S. Persons – or, for that matter, if they actually do so…

  3. On 5/8/2008 at 7:08 pm Watching Them, Watching Us Said:

    The United Kingdom’s GCHQ is legally empowered under the “Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, to intercept any “telecommunications system”

    This is defined as :

    “telecommunication system” means any system (including the apparatus comprised in it) which exists (whether wholly or partly in the United Kingdom or elsewhere) for the purpose of facilitating the transmission of communications by any means involving the use of electrical or electro-magnetic energy.

    Parsing this legal definition, and drawing a Venn diagram, shows that “whether wholly or partly in the United Kingdom or elsewhere” encompasses the entire known and unknown Universe (or parallel universes) and “by any means involving the use of electrical or electro-magnetic energy.” includes Super-Nova powered Cosmic Ray Morse Code etc, as well as every other form of electronic communication.

    Somewhere included in that lot, is all of your USA or US citizen originated communications, but, of course nobody will ever confirm this officially, since it is illegal, under a penalty of up to 2 years in prison, to tell anybody about the existence of, let alone the particular details of, any Interception Warrant or Certificate.

    Of course this all Quid Pro Quo – the US Government snoops on foreign citizens and passes on the details to Foreign Intelligence Agencies when they are not allowed to snoop directly on some or all of their own citizens.