Wednesday, May 17, 2006

New-skool wiretapping.

Even before the recent revelations that the NSA has been collecting information about telephone calls, Ed Felten points out that technology has changed -- and will keep changing -- in ways that should be reframing the debate:

Two technology changes are important. The first is the dramatic drop in the cost of storage, making it economical to record vast amounts of communications traffic. The second technology change is the use of computer algorithms to analyze intercepted communications. Traditionally, a wiretap would be heard (or read) immediately by a person, or recorded for later listening by a person. Today computer algorithms can sift through intercepted communications, looking for sophisticated patterns, and can select certain items to be recorded or heard by a person.

Both changes are driven by Moore’s Law, the rule of thumb that the capability of digital technologies doubles every eighteen months or, equivalently, improves by a factor of 100 every ten years. This means that in 2016 government will be able to store 100 times more intercepted messages, and will be able to devote 100 times more computing capability to its analysis algorithms, compared to today. If the new world of wiretapping has not entirely arrived, it will be here before long.
In the same way that the debate about searches and seizures is sometimes crippled by the difficulties in translating the Fourth Amendment's language from a world in which searches involved the Queen's soldiers rummaging through a house to a world in which many of means of intrusion -- think of thermal imaging, for example -- are now possible, the public conversation about wiretapping is premised on technologies that are now dated. There is something intrusive about the government's monitoring and collecting of when and where telephone calls are placed, but the character of the intrusion is different from that when a government agent listens to a particular call.

Felten has additional thoughts about these changes here, and suggests there are more to come.

Comments: Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Subscribe to Posts [Atom]