Monday, June 10, 2013

What Will Happen When A President Uses The NSA To Get Reelected?

Here is an article in the New York Times about how Barack Obama won the 2012 election through a revolution in collecting data about voters. It includes this quote:

With so much more time to prepare, Mr. Obama’s polling and “analytics” department collected so much information about the electorate that it knew far more about which sorts of voters were going to turn out — and where — than the Romney campaign and most public pollsters.

A piece on CNN said something similar:

But from the beginning, campaign manager Jim Messina had promised a totally different, metric-driven kind of campaign in which politics was the goal but political instincts might not be the means.

"We are going to measure every single thing in this campaign," he said after taking the job. He hired an analytics department five times as large as that of the 2008 operation...

Let's (sort of) switch subjects. An article in Popular Mechanics described how the data collected by the NSA can be used:

There are two basic ways to approach the data. First is a supervised learning approach, where you start with a target variable you are trying to predict for (in this case, you could isolate for a high-risk versus non-high-risk communication) and then separate the data by that variable. The second method, which is more useful for this type of request, is unsupervised learning, in which there's no target variable. You're simply searching for interesting patterns of behavior that occur in unexpected ways. This type of analysis can be used to create social networks of people of interest. 

Now, back to the Times piece:

Culling never-before-used data about viewing habits, and combining it with more personal information about the voters the campaign was trying to reach and persuade than was ever before available, the system allowed Mr. Obama’s team to direct advertising with a previously unheard-of level of efficiency, strategists from both sides agree. 

I hardly need to point out the overlap of the top people in a presidential reelection campaign and the top people in an administration. Messina was a Deputy Chief of Staff in the first term, for example. But the president always wears two hats simultaneously.

To be clear: There is no evidence at all that Obama's team used national security information inappropriately to win reelection. But they have opened the gate. The NSA is surveilling and analyzing the social networks and communications of the American people to an astonishing degree. And this is occurring at the exact same moment pols have launched an information arms race in presidential campaigns like we've never seen before.

The people in the next administration will be privy to a platinum-grade level of information about those whose votes they want to win. To say a reelection campaign won't use their position to gain advantage is naïve.

To say it won't be inevitably revealed is short-sighted.

To say such revelation won't cripple this country's political system and harm its national security is stupid.

NOTE: For something lighter, read: Intelligence Chief James Clapper Answers A Craigslist Missed Connection. Losing our privacy rights has a funny side!


  1. How much more crippled could the country's political system get?

    1. I want to agree, but I'm terrified by the prospect that we could slide further. Jesus, what would that look like???

    2. Shit on a stick? That possum that's been ballooning up in the heat down the road a ways? Italy in the Thirties?
      Whatever it will look like, it won't be pretty.

    3. Oh God, I just want you to write back and list more things that it could look like... That fragment is wonderful.

  2. This is true for raising money too. Imagine if the President could promise company XYZ info on their competitor(s) if they just give a certain minimum amout to the campaign.

  3. Best Democracy money can buy!!

  4. Oh, good Heavens. You people really think all this hasn't already happened? Obama et al are sitting on information power and not using it? Naive, much? Of course he, and whoever else are in powerful positions, are using any information they can get to discredit rivals, lead enemies into unproductive cull de sacs, find out who the potential leaders of resistance are and sideline or kill them, probably even get laid. The idea that people would be so unethical as to secretly collect massive data on absolutely everybody, but so ethical that they won't touch it except for genuine national security purposes, is absurd.

  5. That would never happen. This is America. Trust your government. < /sarc >

  6. Come on now.....George W Bush, wired for "debate"...butterfly ballots....attached chads.....Ohio in '04......It wouldn't surprise me to find that the son of the ex-CIA chief had some sort of special NSA style help stealing two terms....

  7. Let 'er rip. The US system is so corrupt that anyone attempting to reform it would have the same problem as did Gorbachev when he attempted the reform of the USSR.

  8. I heard that GW tapped Kerry's phones in 2004, so this may have already happened. Now Obama data mining that is a new one. Sounds like they already are using this new tool.


Related Posts with Thumbnails