Letters: Digging deeper into the NSA

Re "An NSA fix," Opinion, Oct. 31

Rep Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank) offers incisive legal analysis for deciding whether the National Security Agency's metadata collection program not only passes constitutional muster but whether its obvious efficiency is the only criterion by which it should be judged.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has given its overall blessing to this effort, but that doesn't mean there are no other issues outstanding. Indeed, as Schiff points out, the question of effectiveness is very much alive.

As to whether the program has been structured in a way as to minimize intrusions on our privacy, its dragnet-like nature seems to suggest otherwise. In other words, if there are less burdensome ways of achieving the objective, the program likely will and should be restructured.

In any case, our system was designed to correct imbalances, so the vigorous debates we're having right now should be understood as the sine qua non of a healthy democratic system.

James P. Rudolph

La Jolla

Schiff presents an interesting argument regarding restraints on the collection of telephone metadata. The problem is that almost no one has a clue what metadata is. To be simple, metadata is data about data.

To illustrate, a digital photograph is the data — the dots that make up the image. The telephone conversation — the words spoken — are the data in a phone call.

Photographic metadata describe the camera's shutter speed and aperture, when the photo was taken, the camera brand, maybe even the GPS position and so on. Likewise, the telephonic metadata describe the phone numbers, carriers, time and length of the call. In neither case is the actual content of the photograph or conversation involved — that is, if the NSA is telling the truth.

Until the general public and Congress know the difference, there cannot be an intelligent and productive outcome of this discussion.

Thomas Michael Kelley

Newbury Park


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