Email Tripwires

In a bit of conversation a few weeks ago, a person related their plan to deploy tripwires in all of their outgoing email to cause the NSA headaches if they happen to be monitoring for certain phrases or words. She would include words such as bomb, missile, nuclear, radioactive, radioisotope, dirty bomb, terrorist, etc., in order to swamp their filters with junk.

I immediately thought, “Good! Teach those rotten do-badders a lesson if they try to break the law and spy on Americans.” However, then I got to thinking: Is this against the law? Is it the right way to protest the President’s obvious flouting of our democratic ideals? Would it actually do any good?

Here is some commentary (in the comments, mostly), which might shed some light on the topic, although some of it is a bit lowbrow. Personally, I think whether or not you believe it is right (or legal), it will be 99.9% ineffective.

Assume for a moment that there is some email wiretapping going on. How much email flows back and forth every second? It’s got to be in the hundreds of megabytes. No one has the ability to visually scan that much email. Therefore we get to the filter/datamining approach. How much email every second contains words or phrases that are innocuous in context–”I’m gonna kill my father for showing up drunk,” “She is the bomb,” “Y’all want to go to the quarry this weekend and blast things with guns?”–but would probably trip a dumb filter’s protocols? I’m sure it’s plenty. Too much to be looked at, again, by the budget-strapped agency that is the NSA (every gov’t agency is strapped).

Therefore, we get to the point of smart filters. The only way I can think that this sort of datamining approach to work would be for the filters to know when something isn’t critical because of the context it is in. This scenario would invalidate the email tripwire described above and merely make your signature line look weird.

So, in the first two cases, I think they would not be able to scan that much email with or without any deliberate insertions, and in the third, they wouldn’t see it anyway.

Personally, I think Bush is off his rocker and should face some serious inquiries regarding these wiretapping revelations. But also, I don’t think a personalized NSA-Bomb of this nature would have much effect, either positive or negative, on our country’s intelligence organs.

Again, for thorough commentary, see this link

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