(Devils Advocate) Where’s the case for Data Retention now if snooping stopped possible bombings today?

If monitoring phone records, bank accounts, emails and search habits were what alerted authorities to the activities of the alleged terrorists today, then is Data Retention a good thing? Let the secret service hold and access the data, not a Garda.

How do you convince a scared public that this data should not be handed over to authorities to do what they want?

17 Responses to “(Devils Advocate) Where’s the case for Data Retention now if snooping stopped possible bombings today?”

  1. Michele says:

    It’s the implementation more than the actual spirit of the directive that I have issues with.

  2. Keith says:

    The thing is, the secret service, such as it is, in this country is part of An Garda Siochana (specifically, it consists of three parts: Special Services, Security and Intelligence, and Special Branch C3 Section). Of course, there’s G-2, but that being military intelligence isn’t really interested in this kind of information.

  3. I think we’ll have to wait and see what intelligence led to the breakthrough. Were the records collected specifically based on other intelligence or did it come from monitoring all the traffic out there? We may never know.

    Data retention is fine, as long as the information is used in a limited way. One only has to look at what happened in the dept. of social welfare when the lady from Limerick won 100 million+ on the euro draw (Dolores?). Suddenly a whole load of people with access to her social welfare records started snooping into them. That’s a small incident. Now place all of your records in a searchable database. Who says it will only ever be used by the correct authority to look for impending terrorist plots? e.g. Building lawfull intercept software in a mobile switching centre and then that software being used by someone other than a lawful authority to monitor a 100 mobile phones in Greece belonging to people like the Prime Minister and the head of the navy.
    Although the intent might be noble in terms of retaining data for simply searching for terrorists the potential is there (due to poor execution or wilful subversion) to expose the information for other uses (such as monitoring citizens).

  4. Fergal says:

    If a person is suspected to be plotting a serious crime, then police can apply to have access to his records in the same way as they already do when asking for phone taps or search warrants. Few would disagree that this is a valuable tool in crime detection – where there is a crime. The main objection to data retention is that data is retained as a matter of course, with no discrimination made between the innicent citizen and the criminal, and no police purpose for retaining the data is required. everyone’s records are snooped on, just in case one person turns out to be doing what they shouldn’t have. Let’s just say these records were used in today’s police operation. Aboloshing Data retention would have done nothing to hinder the operation, while protecting the privacy of the innocent.

  5. […] Always a man to get a conversation going, Damien asks if privacy advocates have any case to make if snooping on telephone and Internet traffic averted a major terrorist attack today? […]

  6. copernicus says:

    Fergal is absolutely correct. I’m trying to formulate a post on the very point (while organising a property sale/purchase, but it should be up over the next couple of days, if anyone’s interested.

    Data retention as a matter of course would only be effective in a case like this if the cops said, hey, our workload is totally heavy right now dudes, it’ll be like five years before we even apply for warrants to investigate this contemporary data.

    Something tells me terrorist offences are given a slightly higher priority than that.

  7. I thought my Irish friends might like this…Erin Go Bragh!

    Boston, Dearborn, The IRA and Hezbollah:
    If you grow up in the Boston area in the late 60s and early 70s you know about the IRA/Boston connection. You also had best friends, girlfriends and all the other good stuff that Ireland gave this nation too. I love the Irish and wont bother waxing about all the benefits we have here in the US because of them, it would take a mighty tome. But the Irish in Boston did have something else. I say did have ‘cause they dropped it (sorry) like a hot potato. That’s their support of the IRA.

    As any one here knows, to live in and around Southie (south Boston) meant knowing someone or knowing someone who knew someone who was connected in some distant way with the “struggle”. In my case a school friends cousin who raised money for the IRAs political wing. I always thought of them as terrorist and so did my friend but we kept our opinions at the time to ourselves.
    In fact most Boston Irish knew that the IRA was a terror group. A lot however didn’t mind since they wanted the British to leave Northern Ireland.
    Those who did support the IRA have long ago stooped. The final straw was the Omagh bombing. It capped a long evolution in the eyes of American Irish of the IRA going from freedom fighters (not my opinion) to simple bloodthirsty terrorist.
    An often told tale among those who ceased their support of the IRA and needing affirmation in that change of heart was the apocryphal tale of the Belfast catholic hardware storeowner who was “robed” in the early days of the IRA by masked gunmen. They took what they wanted but left a wad of cash behind. Years later they returned again for
    Read the rest at my site please.. http://amassachusettsrepublican.blogspot.com/

  8. It’s the method that erodes liberty while purporting to fight crime.

    You don’t need to retain petabytes for three years in an unprotected silo when smart intelligence gathers targeted data in real time on perps targeted through established crime-fighting methods.

  9. TJ says:

    The Guardian report provides the answer:

    “For well over a year, MI5 had been watching a group of young British Muslims after a tip-off from an informant.

    Through an unprecedented surveillance operation involving bugging and phone tapping, they learned that in mundane residential streets a plot was being hatched which a senior security source described yesterday as “bigger than 9/11”.


    This wasn’t a case where the entire population was watched and terrorists mysteriously identified – this was a case where old fashioned intelligence work identified suspects who were then individually monitored. It lends no support to the argument that everyone should be watched at all times. If anything, it demonstrates that the state should waste less time and money on data retention and spend it instead on Arab speaking officers and better intelligence.

  10. TJ says:

    Oops – should be a terminating italics tag after 9/11.

  11. Damien says:

    The leaked AOL data there showed a guy who seemed to want to kill his wife. Maybe she was killed. Would it not be worth searching data like this for trigger words?

    A tip-off from an informant got these guys this time. What if there was no tip-off? There was none for the London bombings or the failed subsequent bombings. What if searches for trigger words like “gel explosive” could be used?

    Is the solution to counter-terrorism to hire tens of thousands more informers and profilers to figure out who potential terrorists may be but not mine data that could get terrorists?

    Answer me this. Will mining data like AOLs find terrorists or potential terrorists? I think it will.

  12. Questions the basic assumption that data mining is any use against terrorism. I haven’t read enough to know if the arguments are valid but Bruce Schneier is a well recognised expert in the area of security. Basic argument is that terrorists don’t lend them selves to being data mined (profile makeup and infrequency of attacks).


  13. Mark says:

    The idea that we should throw out data retention to fund physical operatives is ludicrous. First off the percentage of people who’d make good operatives is miniscule, it doesn’t matter how much money you throw at it there are only so many people out their with the mental traits required to perform the job effectively. You can’t just throw more people at the problem, you need the right people and they are few and far between.

    Data mining allows the intelligence services to find patterns, interconnections, and map the structure of what they are fighting. It is not a substitute for physical assets.

    That’s the difference between the US and UK intelligence services, after the Church Report the US began moving away from physical assets in favour of high tech only solutions, hence the reason they’ve been so blind to low tech threats. The UK on the other hand couldn’t match the level of high tech investment so they stuck to developing physical assets.

    Yesterday’s win was from numerous approaches, not one or the other.

    As for Data Retention the information should be retained by the company or organisation and then acquired through a legal process. We’ve had phone tapping in this country already, no single organisation should have carte blanche on information access. This isn’t Soviet Russia and we don’t need a KGB, we need law enforcement to get access to what they need when they need it, and that’s all.

  14. copernicus says:

    Data mining is easily subverted by the most simplistic code arrangements. It is unlikely that, knowing the level of discovery under a data retention regime, I am going to organise a terror attack by email using words like gel explosive or other likely trigger combinations.

    In fact, the sheer volume of information involved makes it easier to hide things in plain sight.

  15. copernicus says:

    Besides, doesn’t data retention involve only the fact that data was conveyed rather than its content.

    I remember reading some years ago about the trigger variety of data mining, which produces way too many possible leads for any government to keep track of. Each triggered recording must be reviewed by a human yet only an infinitesimal proportion – if, indeed, any – would produce useful information. Given the sheer volume, even those useful leads, if they exist at all, might never be got round to or not got round to for years.

  16. Mark says:

    It isn’t the contents of the communications which is important in terrorism, we all know that no one is going to put their master plan in clear text and ship it across the net. the importance comes from using Email, SMS, phone, and web site logs as spectroscopy.

    Who’s speaking to whom, not what their saying. When you find out who’s speaking to whom and when they’ve been communicating you can then deploy other assets to find out exactly what they are saying. Data mining that information allows you to find points where you should focus other assets, it’s not some silver bullet which will tell you when you should send the police around.

  17. […] Always a man to get a conversation going, Damien asks if privacy advocates have any case to make if snooping on telephone and Internet traffic averted a major terrorist attack today? […]