The fury from the American people has been loud. Just this week the program called Prism run by the National Security Agency has been found to monitor every phone call and text message. The people are upset that the government is listening to their phone calls. Their private moments, their confidential business secrets and dirty sex talk between illicit lovers. President Obama ,today tried to re assure the American people that “Nobody is listening to your telephone calls”. For the most part, he is correct.
The program, called PRISM is nothing new. The government has been doing this for decades. Now,with the advent of social media, texts, cellphones and other platforms, the government wants to expand their antiquated program. They are erecting a huge computer storage facility in Bluffdale Utah, which will store this info.
It is not practical to listen to each and every phone call. To read every text. Most bad guys are not going to say “I have the explosives and I rented a truck. the bomb is ready” . They will communicate in code. “I managed to pick up the babies toys and put them together”. So this computer, with untold yantabytes will store texts and recordings of each conversation. The recordings will sit in storage.
Let’s say Tom and his wife Alison are huge drug dealers. They communicate over the phone about their buyers/suppliers. None of that info gets turned over to the police. In fact the Prism program will simply log their calls. In spite of the fact that these two criminals run a huge theft ring and traffic in stolen property. Tom tells a customer” I got stolen cameras and electronics.Meet me on Red Lion Road at 5:00 p.m. to buy them”. Unless the local police or FBI is already conducting an investigation into Tom’s criminal activity, he is safe to steal some more.
Now let’s assume Tom sets off a bomb or purchases large amounts of black powder , his wife , Alison buys several lead pipes with multiple end caps and some fuse. The purchases will set off a trigger in Utah and further investigation may be initiated. Assume he set off his bomb . However, he was not careful and his DNA was found on the residue. The authorities then can pull his phone records.
They can also program the computer to look for key words and analyze those specific conversations. Putting aside those that have nothing to do with the crime.
They will listen to the stored recordings. They will find him cheating on his wife. They will find calls to his probation officer. They will also find calls to a co conspirator. The fact that Alison calls her girl friend to talk about going to the shore for the weekend is set aside. The girlfriend is interviewed. Once authorities are convinced she had nothing to do with the acts, she is sent on her way.
Once Tom is identified as a suspect in the bombing, local police can be tipped off about his trips to sell stolen stuff on Red Lion Rd. That helps to bolster their case and lets the general public know that Tom and Alison ran a continuing criminal enterprise.
When you see in the movies, bad guys speaking in code on the phone, that happens in real life. No one is going to talk about selling stolen items or cocaine in plain English. No communication platform is exempt. Tweets from Twitter, Facebook, Myspace, it’s all stored. There is a chance this data can be accessed when a person is applying for a security clearance. There, the NSA can read all about how the applicant thinks the President is a moron or they read hostile comments directed towards another person. Then, they will weigh those comments with the person’s lifestyle habits to determine if they get the security clearance or not.
So for the embarrassed teenager who got up enough nerve to tell the girl in 10th grade “I love you “or the business manager who spoke about company top secrets with his boss,to the cheating wife on the prowl with another man(or woman), your secret is safe, as long as you or the person you are talking to does not do anything stupid.