Tuesday, January 18, 2005

This Does Not Compute 

Heavily publicized in recent days has been the problems the FBI seems to have with computers. You get the impression that they're all working on Commodore 64s, Apple IIE's and 47 pound Osborne portables, connected (intermittently) by 300-baud dialup modems. A sample of this tale of woe, carried in thousands of papers and media outlets:

(via San Diego Union Tribune)
The FBI said yesterday that it might scrap a $170 million software program developed as a crucial element in a high-performance computer system required for the bureau to meet the threat of terrorism.
And there's also this one....although this is more puzzling as it is dated today whereas I thought they had announced the cancellation of this program months ago when those wacko civil-liberties nuts complained:

AP (via AskJeeves aggregator MyWay)

The FBI has effectively abandoned its custom-built Internet surveillance technology, once known as Carnivore, designed to read e-mails and other online communications among suspected criminals, terrorists and spies, according to bureau oversight reports submitted to Congress.

Instead, the FBI said it has switched to unspecified commercial software to eavesdrop on computer traffic during such investigations and has increasingly asked Internet providers to conduct wiretaps on targeted customers on the government's behalf, reimbursing companies for their costs.
So after two such sad songs, does anything about this piece seem just a bit incongruous?

also AP

If you're among the millions of Americans who took airline flights in the months before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the FBI probably knows about it - and possibly where you stayed, whom you traveled with, what credit card you used and even whether you ordered a kosher meal.

The bureau is keeping 257.5 million records on people who flew on commercial airlines from June through September 2001 in its permanent investigative database, according to information obtained by a privacy group and made available to The Associated Press.

Privacy advocates say they're troubled by the possibility that the FBI could be analyzing personal information about people without their knowledge or permission.
Um, no shit. Not to mention the question of what the hell use these ancient records are to figuring out where terrists are plotting eeeevil today.

(Oh, and is anybody else getting as annoyed as I am by the overuse of the word "troubling" these days? Could we maybe get a better indication of whether this is "a thing that makes you say HHHmmmmm...." as Arsenio used to put it, or a "run for your life, we're surrounded, sauve qui peut" situation? But we digress....)

And lo, there is an explanation!

FBI spokesman Bill Carter said the bureau was required to retain its records.

"There are rules that have been set by the National Archives with regard to the retention of records by government agencies," Carter said.
Yeah, that's the ticket! They're saving this shit, which they had a dubious right to acquire in the first place, for the Archives! Right. Sure. I believe that.

Meanwhile if you were on a commercial flight during the time period in question, your name is in a file somewhere. I hope the consolation of having your name, credit card number, and preferences in kosher food preserved for all time in the National Archives, and will become available to the archaeologists of the year 4782. I'm sure nobody's going to look at it in the meantime just for fun or because they can or anything.

corrente SBL - New Location
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The Washington Chestnut
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