world war E
dispatches from the network society

Gonzales hearings bring attention back to datamining

Senate hearings into whether or not U.S. Attorney General misled Congress on secret surveillance programs centered on the NSA’s secret datamining program, disclosed in 2004.

Specifically, the hearings focused on an incident in March 2004 when Gonzales – then White House counsel – attempted to pressure then-AG John Ashcroft (on his hospital bed recovering from pancreatitis) to reauthorize an undisclosed surveillance program. Gonzales (and White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card) was thwarted because Ashcroft had delegated authority to deputy AG Jim Comey.

If the undisclosed program Gonzales wanted to reauthorize was datamining, he technically may not have lied to Congress – but Senators involved in the hearings want his head to roll anyway, with Russ Feingold (D-WI) remarking, “It is time for a special counsel to investigate whether criminal charges should be brought.”

The datamining program (sometimes described as an extension of ECHELON) is controversial because unlike most signal intercept programs at the NSA, it sifts through large quantities of domestic communications traffic, and is consequently considered an assault on individual privacy.

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