Opinion

Stories I’d like to see

Booz Allen’s liability, Europe and the NSA, and Obamacare as stimulus

Steven Brill
Jun 10, 2013 16:07 UTC

1. Booz Allen’s liability in the government snooping leaks:

We now know that the source of last week’s leaks revealing various U.S. government data collection and surveillance activities is a low-level employee of the giant consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton, which the New York Times reported on Monday was paid $1.3 billion last year by various American intelligence agencies under multiple contracts related to data collection and analysis. (The firm’s website  has a whole section under “Intelligence Community” about how Booz turns “Big Data Into Big Insights.”)

So, the obvious question is what do those contracts say about the firm’s liability if one of its employees spills its client’s secrets resulting in what Director of National Intelligence James Clapper calls “gut=wrenching” losses? Can we at least get some or all of our money back? (The company’s stock was down in Monday morning trading, perhaps in anticipation of such problems.) If not, why not?

2. Greenwald’s conflict?

Revealing Snowden’s identity was Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald’s latest in his series of scoops on U.S. government snooping. Greenwald posted a video interview with Snowden in which the Booz Allen employee says he revealed the government’s intelligence programs to Greenwald to expose abuses of what he called “a surveillance state.”

I’d sure like to know exactly how much, if at all, Greenwald encouraged the 29-year-old Snowden to turn himself in. After all, the main beneficiary of Snowden’s confession is Greenwald – because now it’s Snowden who will likely be prosecuted while Greenwald will avoid all of the legal hassles that would have come from an investigation aimed at finding his source.

3. Look to Europe for the next fight over NSA snooping:

This paragraph in a Wall Street Journal report  on Saturday summarizing the week’s revelations about the snooping programs should be a launching point for lots of stories in the coming days:

Cheney’s heart, CVS and privacy, and Wal-Mart’s guns

Steven Brill
Apr 17, 2012 13:11 UTC

1. Who gives out hearts?

In exploring whether former Vice-President Cheney might have received preferential treatment when he got a heart transplant recently, many of the reporters covering the story referred to what the New York Times called “a national system that tracks donors and recipients by medical criteria.” Two doctors were then quoted as saying, as one put it: “It is not possible to game the system.”

Fair enough, but who runs the system? Who sets the criteria, and who signs off on who has met the criteria? Who decides close calls? Is there a form that gets signed by a majority of some committee, or is there one king of hearts? And are actual names attached to the patients, so that whoever was making the decision could have seen that Vice-President Cheney was an applicant for the heart in question?

Because transplants are done urgently once a donor becomes available – often after his or her sudden death in an accident, when apparently there are only hours to spare before the heart is no longer viable – is there some kind of operations center, where these decisions are signed off on and coordinated? Can’t some reporter take us there and have us meet the people playing God?

A trove of stories from the Facebook IPO

Steven Brill
Feb 6, 2012 16:19 UTC

Facebook’s landmark IPO filing suggests lots of meaty stories. Among them:

1. Facebook, third parties and data security:

Embedded in the typically long recitation of “risk factors” designed to shield IPO issuers from shareholder suits should things go wrong is a section of the prospectus that warns:

Our efforts to protect the information that our users have chosen to share using Facebook may be unsuccessful due to the actions of third parties … If these third parties or Platform developers fail to adopt or adhere to adequate data security practices or fail to comply with our terms and policies, or in the event of a breach of their networks, our users’ data may be improperly accessed or disclosed. Any incidents involving unauthorized access to or improper use of the information of our users could damage our reputation and our brand and diminish our competitive position. In addition, the affected users or government authorities could initiate legal or regulatory action against us in connection with such incidents, which could cause us to incur significant expense and liability or result in orders or consent decrees forcing us to modify our business practices….

Not explained here is what protective mechanisms Facebook has to prevent these kinds of third-party security breaches and other abuses. Is the privacy and data protection of Facebook users only as strong as the weakest link among these third parties? Is there an Internet equivalent of the Gulf oil spill out there waiting to happen, after which Facebook points fingers at these third parties?

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