Rubin: NSA Error Rate Nothing To Be Troubled Over

by William Teach | August 19, 2013 9:01 am

Many of you know that Jennifer Rubin is the Washington Post’s token “Conservative”, and I put Conservative in quotation marks because she is really representing the Establishment, inside-the-beltline, squishy Republican school of thought that anything approaching Reagan type Conservatism. On Friday we learned about the NSA violated privacy rights[1] 2,776 times at their D.C. area data centers erroneously. This was a report that only discussed errors, and, again, doesn’t encompass all the data centers they operate. It doesn’t touch on the intentional privacy rights violations. But, hey, the program is near perfection!

NSA scandal or near-perfection?[2]


This is extraordinary. If there are 20 million inquiries each month over a year span that works out to 240,000,000. That equates to an error rate of .00001156666. If the NSA figures are accurate this is the most airtight surveillance program in history. The error rate isn’t simply “extremely low”; it is virtually nonexistent. (snip)

So about 800 Americans were the subject of some sort of error. Over a full year. Involving 240,000,000 inquiries.

I am having trouble mounting outrage over this. Moreover, it is not clear what an error really involved. The NSA hasn’t been forthcoming as to whether, for example, 800 Americans had an e-mail read or if, for example, only an individual’s identity for an e-mail was obtained. We still don’t know if the information derived from the errors was isolated and purged from the system. (snip)

If the NSA wasn’t hiding the ball and there were no instances of intentional misconduct in 240,000,000 inquiries then NSA should be given a gold star. Perhaps the NSA report isn’t accurate or we don’t have a complete picture, but right now it seems that the reaction to the report is hugely disproportionate to the problem.

There’s no doubt that the error rate is tiny. I think we can agree with that. But what of the error rate at other facilities, which would come into play for the overall number? More importantly, while this may seem like no big deal, it is part of the pattern of problems with the NSA and the way they gather data on Americans (note: I do not care if they gather data on foreigners, since that’s what they’re supposed to do). If this was a stand-alone report it would be no big deal. But it doesn’t stand-alone: it follows on report after report after report as to just how intrusive the NSA programs are.

Of course, how do we really know what all the mistakes are when it is the NSA self-reporting them?

Furthermore, we do not know what those inquiries targeted. How many targeted Americans, and saw some unintentional errors where the wrong Americans were targeted? Rubin is pushing the Establishment Republican mentality, which seems to be “we need this, and if you’ve done nothing wrong, don’t worry”, versus the true Conservative/Libertarian version, which is “hey, we have a Constitution, there should be no blanket warrants, this is intrusive and a violation of citizen’s privacy”. This is how we end up with Peter King facing off against Rand Paul.

Just to be clear, there is a debate going on between Democrats, too, we just don’t hear about it much.

Crossed at Pirate’s Cove[3]. Follow me on Twitter @WilliamTeach[4].

  1. NSA violated privacy rights:
  2. NSA scandal or near-perfection?:
  3. Pirate’s Cove:
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