Former NSA Boss: We Don't Data Mine, We Just Do Something That Is Exactly Like Data Mining

In an interview yesterday with NPR, Former NSA Director Michael Hayden denied the NSA is data mining their massive collection of “business records” that were secretly collected.  “Business records” is a less offensive way of describing all the data they got from a business, but are about YOU

Instead Hayden described a process that sounded just like data mining.  Let’s set this up:

(HOST) MARTIN: President Obama and his director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, have both insisted that the U.S. government is not spying on Americans.

HAYDEN: Right.

MARTIN: That it is not data mining information from Americans.

HAYDEN: Right.

The we move on to this: 

HAYDEN: It is a successor to the activities we began after 9/11 on President Bush’s authority, later became known as the Terrorist Surveillance Program.

So, NSA gets these record and puts them away, puts them in files. They are not touched. So, fears or accusations that the NSA then data mines or trolls through these records, they’re just simply not true.

MARTIN: Why would you be collecting this information if you didn’t want to use it?

HAYDEN: Well, that’s – no, we’re going to use it. But we’re not going to use it in the way that some people fear. You put these records, you store them, you have them. It’s kind of like, I’ve got the haystack now. And now let’s try to find the needle. And you find the needle by asking that data a question. I’m sorry to put it that way, but that’s fundamentally what happens. All right. You don’t troll through the data looking for patterns or anything like that. The data is set aside. And now I go into that data with a question that – a question that is based on articulable(ph), arguable, predicate to a terrorist nexus. Sorry, long sentence.

So, they are just “asking the data questions” but not “data mining.” And then the conversation turned to PRISM.

HAYDEN: OK. Separately now, go to the second program, which some people are calling PRISM, all right? Now, PRISM is about Internet data, not telephony. And it’s all about foreigners. All right? Now, so, if I’ve got a bad person in Waziristan talking to a bad person in Yemen via a chat room that is hosted by an American Internet service provider, the only thing American about that conversation is the fact that it’s happening on a server on the West Coast of the United States.

MARTIN: It’s my understanding, though, that analysts who are making these determinations only have to be 51 percent sure that this person is a foreigner. That seems mushy.

HAYDEN: Yeah, well, actually, in some ways, you know, that’s actually the literal definition of probable, in probable cause. And I understand. It makes Americans nervous. Fifty-one percent; you’re going to get some of these wrong. But, Rachel, the way this works is you get to do the first step, based on a belief that this is probably a foreign conversation. All right? But as you go through it, you are under a constant requirement to try to shred out whether you’re still sure it’s foreign or American. And if it’s American, you’re done.

I think probable cause means that you probably committed a crime, not that you are probably a foreign.


H/T to Techdirt