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join the discussion: What are your thoughts on this report about the clash between the post-9/11 prevention paradigm and privacy protections?  Where would you draw the line?


I enjoyed your analysis of the state of our privacy vs data collection and mining.

My only problem with your show was the very minimal or lack of discussion about the problems of long term storage of the data that is collected.

I am a part of the IT industry and fully understand the complexity and usefulness of data mining. In this era of terrorism, I am willing to sacrifice some privacy of my data in order to allow the government to analyze global data in order to recognize patterns that indicate terrorism and like crime. I'm also willing (and recognize) that the data mining results still depend on final human analysis and that errors and mistakes will occur.

The two issues that I think are much more important that how this data is used to find patterns, is the danger of using this mass of data in a more traditional method to research specific individuals. What happens when all of this data is stored indefinitely?

Here's an easy scenario of abuse... I decided to run for Congress and someone who is a fan of the incumbent happens to work in the NSA/FBI/etc. They scan all of this massive data collected for years and can correlate my travel, shopping and hotel activities. This data indicates a pattern that I might have had an affair 5 years ago. They leak this information to my opponent's campaign and they hire a private investigator to confirm and dig up this information. A week later, this information is leaked to a news paper, journalist, tabloid etc. Now, I've suddenly have to deal with combating this dirty laundry and I lose the election. Poof! ...

We need to discuss and insure that the government has measures in place to insure the destruction (and real destruction) of aging data along with methods to allow bad data (which always occurs and will be significant) to be corrected by individuals. Similar to our credit history, how can a mis-targeted individual see and or/remove/fix information that is in error.

We can't return to the world of pre-9/11, that society has changed forever. We must instead insure that as our Government and world changes, that we continue to question our Government and their decisions in order to insure our Freedoms are not compromised.

Jeff Bakke
Farmingdale, NJ


I really wonder what a lot of people on this board would say if a massive terrorist attack took place and it was subsequently proven that the NSA could have intercepted the communications (and the plot could have been stopped).

Why do I think that some of the people professing to be non-partisan about this issue would be screaming about how the plot could have been interdicted if only the NSA had intercepted the communications."

Finally, for the people who like trotting out that stale quote from Benjamin Franklin about security and liberty need to understand that without some basic degree of security, liberty is impossible.

The truth is that people who decry this sort of thing are willing the ends without willing the means.

Alexandria, VA


I think this program was excellent. In one interview the program does address one comment posted here regarding "all private companies do this but Frontline makes a fuzz when it is government doing it [to protect us]"; the anwser is simple: though I resent a private company spying on me (and would like to see legislation to end this), they cannot mistakenly land me in Guantanamo. The government can.

On the other hand, though I believe the ATT employee was sincere and courageous, I think Frontline attempted to oversell him as a high tech communications expert, which I think he was not.

One glaring thing that was missing from the report on Narus is the Israeli connection. I once visited Narus in Santa Clara, CA, and detected a noticeable high percentage of Israeli personnel. Later I found out Narus is indeed linked to Israel (e.g. was funded by Gemini Israel Funds, http://www.gemini.co.il/Default.aspx?p=News&CategoryID=165&ArticleID=264). Given Israel's renowned competency in the area of espionage and their close proximity to US security agencies, are there reasons for concern for foreign espionage in our soil. There are precedents (Jonathan Pollard).

Maybe it is a coincidence, but I am often surprised how often the media (including the media I trust most) stops short of pursuing any leads pointing to Israel. Another example was not explaining to the public what is a "sniper school" in the Jack Abramoff case.

Keep up the good work

Saratoga, California


"Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety." - Benjamin Franklin

Howard Killebrew
Auburn, Alabama


David Oliver, of Moore, OK writes;

"After watching the ACLU version of "Spying On The Homefront", I can only say Thank God our President has the courage to safeguard us against further acts of terrorism. I believe that some of our privacy rights must be sacrificed due to terrorism. I am also quite sure that our founding fathers did not envision the current state of our world while writing the constitution."

Nor did the founding fathers think kids would carry guns into schools either, but that doesn't encourage the conservatives into a rational discussion on gun control. With your logic, are you willing to cede some of these gun rights, for the greater good??

David Skalish
Glenolden, Pa.


Thank you so much for sharing so much of our nation's security technology - and our enemies must be so grateful as well. While I also am concerned about privacy, I have no objection to what the government did in Las Vegas about a possible terriorist threat for New Year's Eve - and I'm perplexed about Stephen Sprouse and his wife being so upset. Had something horrible happened, I'm sure their families would have been the first to say the government should have used any necessary means to prevent such a catastrophe.

It's been almost 6 years since 9/11 and we've not had another attack on the Unites States - a coincidence? I don't think so. You smug, anti-government attitude in this report was so apparent, and I think you have become much too complacent about the dangerous situation here in the U.S. because of terriorists. OUr country did not choose this road - it was forced upon us by 9/11 and the world situation today. We have this advanced technology - don't assume our enemies are not desperately to gain it as well. The President's job is to protect the United States - if that means someone wants to read my emails, listen to my phone conversations, watch me gamble at a casino (which I do not do), go right ahead if it will help protect all the citizens of this great country. I think most Americans share this attitude - if you interviewed them instead of the many elitist anti-government people you did, I'm sure you program would have had a different tone.

D Brown
Philadelhia, PA


One question I found was insufficiently answered in this program was: how well does this new approach to finding terrorists work? I've not seen any evidence that mining these vast amounts of data ever resulted in the apprehension of a terrorist or in the prevention of a terrorist attack. Call me cynical, but I believe this 'suspect everyone' philosophy was adopted simply because incompetent and underfunded government agencies had failed to come up with any concrete leads.I'm willing to give up some of my privacy for effective, thoughtful counterterrorism; I won't give it up to make up for the government's own blundering incompetence.And, of course, the government won't discuss its methods, success rate or rationale because that would endanger national security. Maybe true, definitely convenient.Apart from this, history has taught us again and again that giving law enforcement more powers invariably leads not to more effective crimefighting, but to bigger miscarriages of justice. The Terrorism Act in the United Kingdom is a perfect example of this: allowing police to interrogate suspects longer resulted in scores of innocent people landing in jail for years for crimes they had nothing to do with.

Mathijs Panhuijsen
Amsterdam, The Netherlands


This is a great program, one that should be rebroadcast so that the widest audience of citizens can see what our government is up to regarding privacy issues.

After reading all of the comments posted here, and ignoring those with blind political objectives who apparently didn't understand the program and its issues, it seems to me that viewers need to read history about what totalitarian states have done in the past.

Too many of our citizens see this as the "If I did nothing wrong, what do I have to fear?" approach. Maybe, they need to speak to Holocaust survivors of the Nazi regime to see that many who were arrested and died during that period also did nothing, except be Jews, non Germanic Eastern Europeans, mentally retarded persons, political opponents to the Nazis, or other factors of non-wrongdoing. Similar situations existed in the communist states of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, especially during the Stalinist era. How many were sent to the Gulag who did "nothing wrong" except that someone reported them as "suspicious." Don't we have our own gulag at Guantanamo?

Sadly, many Americans just don't care. They live life without a clue until their identity is stolen costing them their financial security and untold problems. We can trust our government only when the government is accountable to the people for its actions, not the other way. This terminology of "War on Terror" is in error. You don't have a war on a concept. It is used incorrectly to give this administration the latitude to conduct itself in ways our founding fathers would not accept when we are not at war. Will all of this "data mining" end up being used to deny one the right to vote at some time in the future? With "paperless" voting machines, what is to prevent the government from not recording my vote because I am on a "list?" What is to prevent the government from targeting my tax return for harassing tax audits because I am on a "list?" What is to prevent the government from denying me a government college loan because I am on a "list?" What is to prevent the government from drafting me into the armed forces for combat duty because I am on a "list?"

I hope Frontline will follow up with additional programs on this important theme.

John V. Gallagher
Turnersville, New Jersey


Yes, we want safety - as people like George Bush mention.What Bush and other conservatives here don't understand (or blatantly ignore) is that the most important part of the Constitution was written to keep us safe from insane and illegal excesses by our own government. George Bush has, undoubtedly, made this nation LESS safe than Al-qaeda EVER could!

Bessemer, Pennsylvania


Amazing program, since I work with the networks I could not believe it. I thought it was a major problem to separate the good from the bads.

Evidently I was amazed. Bravo Hedrick Smith!!!!

Bronx, NY


Great program! Amazing the negative comments that you have received. We would not have this great country of ours if these people had been in charge instead of our founding fathers. Maybe if they had paid a little more attention in high school history class they would have a better idea of what makes this country so special.

Their willingness to give the government unchecked power to snoop into the lives of the innocent Americans, dishonors the thousands of service members who have given their lives to keep this country free. I can not think of anything more cowardly.

Land of the free and home of the brave? Sometimes I wonder...

John Riddick
Denver, CO


I am a new fan of your great show. I belive that we need a news program that is free of any corporate influence. That being said, the erosion of our civil liberties is a both vital and I feel, quiet topic in the American public. I observe that most Americans are willing to take off their shoes, wait longer in airport lines, or be randomly searched by security authorities as long as it is being "done" in the name of "security." Back in the beginning, the British Redcoats would barge into your home and have you house one of their soldiers, with no permission from you. At the end of the Civil War we put the head of a Confederate prision on trial for war crimes and mistreatment of prisoners. Who are we? That is the only question that matters at the end of the day. Who are we? When we look at ourselves in the reflection who and what looks back at us? Is it Americans defending themselves or the enemy in denial? Do we even want to find out the true answer? If we have the courage to find out, I belive we do; after all we are Americans!!

Michael A Villacres
Queens Village, NY


The federal government had tremendous surveillance authority even prior to 9/11; Congress granted the intelligence and law enforcement "communities" even more power -- significanlty more power -- then the FBI and NSA enaged in activities further and further beyond waht they had been given. The folks who decry this Frontline program are very naive. Yes, the government has a duty to protect us. But there are checks and balances -- and levels of accountability -- that many of our so-called "protectors" have no use for whatsoever. The threat of terrorism does not warrant unlimited fishing expeditions into our communications. The FBI and NSA have continually abused their authority and, sorry to say, they cannot be trusted. Thank you Frontline for this important project.

Steve Peacock
Point Pleasant, NJ


It strikes me that the main issue of the documentary was whether or not the president has any limits when it comes to a time of war. Habeas corpus, the 4th amendment, and the Constitution in general are integral to our legal system, and the idea that war indicates the president need not pay any attention to them whatsoever is chilling.

Such is Yoo's argument: the commander in chief's power supersedes any law deemed unnecessary or a hindrance to the pursuit of the war.

Frontline's question seems to be: is that really true? If it is true, then the further question is whether or not we are any longer truly in a democracy that is run by checks and balances. Rather, the result seems to be tacit marshal law.

So the issue is not whether or not an innocent was caught up and unlawfully imprisoned in the net (though people such as Maher Arar certainly were), but whether there are limits and checks on executive power.

W. Swedlow
Alameda, Ca


I find it interesting that so many conservatives are willing to waive the Fourth Amendment yet so unwilling to waive the Second!

Columbus, Ohio


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posted may. 15, 2007

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