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December 02, 2013

A Thanksgiving Parking Ticket and NSA Data Gathering

Last Thursday, one of our Thanksgiving guests received a $50 parking ticket for parking against traffic in front of our house, and therein lies reasons why the National Security Agency (NSA) should be collecting as little information as necessary.

Virginia state law VA 46.2-889 says vehicles must be parked facing the direction of travel lane. We live in a residential neighborhood and not on a primary road, but the street is maintained by Virginia Department of Transportation, so it is still a "public" road.  We are thankful for Fairfax County police issuing tickets to the ongoing battle of U-turn crazy drivers looking for a quick short cut to avoid the construction backups along the main road.

Our guest's $50 ticket had the comment "Neighbor complaint" written on it, indicating someone in the neighborhood took offense to a worn-but-in-good condition car parking against regulations.  Other than the (slight) visual distraction, the parked car offered no harm or degradation of property values for the five hours it was parked there.

One of our neighbors disagreed.  Rather than expressing this verbally or with a handwritten warning on the windshield, she dropped a dime during one of the nation's best-known holidays, when people come from all over to park in front of houses and eat Thanksgiving dinners.  Makes me want to backward park a car on Christmas day just to see if she'd do the same thing again, so I could send her a Scrooge card.

Imagine if this woman worked for the NSA.

I know it seems a bit of a stretch, but human beings are flawed and you cannot predict what an unreasonable person might do within the system.

The NSA's inspector general reported in September that there had been at least 12 recorded cases of personnel spying on their boyfriends, husbands and wives. Just before Thanksgiving, The Huffington Post revealed the NSA was gathering records of "online sexual activity and evidence of visits to pornographic websites" as part of a proposed plan to harm the reputations of foreign "targets" to undermine their credibility, reputation and authority. Other agencies receiving information on the proposed program included officials with the Departments of Justice and Commerce and the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Consider that the NSA has conducted a vacuum cleaner approach to data gathering around the globe, with some (undocumented) safeguards in place to protect U.S. citizens from inadvertent investigation.  Add in the track record of American politicians over the past couple of decades  for their various peccadilloes, ranging from Bill Clinton's White House affair to Anthony Weiner's sexting scandals.

What happens when NSA employees stumble across  -- if they already haven't -- the latest sins of our leaders?  The phrase "awkward moment" seems to be a bit of an understatement.  Assuming such knowledge would remain secret over the long-term is questionable, given that Edward Snowden managed to gain access to a cornucopia of NSA information that continues to be trickled out by third-party media on a regular basis.

While sex-crazed politicians may be the easy path to imagining NSA abuses, it is the larger potential of unimagined scenarios that we should all worry about.  Knowledge is power, goes the cliché.  Keeping the power of the NSA in check will mean placing limits to the amount of data it can collect so it can't be abused.

Edited by Cassandra Tucker

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