Reaction to NSA Prism Data Mining: Outrage and Shrug

The KDnuggets Poll on NSA PRISM program - collecting and data mining huge amounts of internet data - produced an intense debate and strong reaction, with 66% of European and 56% of US/Canada voters expressing outrage. The rest of the world was mostly not surprised.

By Gregory Piatetsky, Jun 17, 2013.

c comments

On June 6, 2013 The Guardian and Washington Post revealed a huge NSA data mining program, code-named PRISM, which gets information directly from servers of nine leading US internet companies.

KDnuggets poll on Reaction PRISM: NSA collecting and data mining huge amounts of internet datagenerated a strong response and an intense debate on LinkedIn with many comments - see selected ones below.

The majority of voters expressed outrage, with only 7.5% supporting PRISM as a needed tool against terrorism. See a regional breakdown below.

Your reaction to PRISM: NSA collecting and data mining huge amounts of internet data?[228 voters]
Outraged, this is a huge invasion of privacy (126)  55%
No big deal, I expected something like this is going on (82)  36%
Support, this is needed to detect terrorism threats (17)  7.5%
Don't care (3)  1.3%

(*)The intensity of feelings was clearly on the outrage side, and it has produced an "attack" with over 400 additional "Outrage" votes, which were removed from this summary. However, even after this correction, the majority of voters were outraged by NSA data mining.

About 67% of all voters were from US/Canada, 19% from Europe, and 14% from other regions. The following table shows breakdown by region, with "Don't care" votes combined with "No big deal", and bar height proportional to the number of votes from the region.

The majority of voters in Europe and USA expressed outrage, with less than 10% showing support for PRISM. The main reaction from rest of the world was a shrug: "No big deal, we expected something like this".

Region % Outraged % No big deal % Support
US/Canada  56%  35%  9%
Europe  66%  27%  7%
Other  39%  61%  0%

We note that the Outrage percentage is slightly higher in Europe than in US, but those are the only 2 regions where voters showed some support for PRISM. The rest of the world was less outraged, and most there thought it was no big deal - they were not surprised.


Perhaps the best reaction was

"I can't express how infuriated I am that my credit history, phone activity, and online browsing habits are being systematically collected and archived without my knowledge by undisclosed organizations that aren't trying to sell me products," said the visibly disturbed man,

The Onion

A poll on Mashable found 81% not surprised by NSA PRISM program

There were also many comments on LinkedIn, mainly in the Advanced Business Analytics, Data Mining and Predictive Modeling group thread. Here are some selected comments:

  • George Kosier: Share everything plan - LOL
  • Jose Emilio Champsaur M.B.A.: Here is a clip with the Government take on this.

  • Carrie Weiner Campbell: Not surprised. Not happy, but not surprised. Meanwhile, I *did* like the fact that suddenly the term "metadata" was on everyone's lips...!
  • Chris Stehlik: Overblown and misunderstood.

    Patriot Act can overstep and should be changed, but overblown reporting on what should be happening helps no one.

  • Phillip Burger: The poll is naive to frame the program as a matter of privacy. The problem is that the government created an apparatus, an architecture of repression it can use to repress us. KDD as turnkey tyranny.
  • Ivana Cace: Not suprised. But i'm am grateful - to Snowden that is - for kickstarting a long overdue public debate in society in general about data, privacy and Europe's relationship with the USA.
  • Justin Kern: Not surprised. Interested to see if there are any deeper governance lessons or takeaways from using social network data from the enterprise level.
  • By Russell de Pina: Not surprised. I wrote a few articles against the Patriot Act back in 2001, and wouldn't you know, I managed to be chosen for extra security screenings every time I flew for the next 18 months. (So I have no sympathy for GOTP types that want to cry foul about this latest round of political dirty tricks). But not surprised because everything I pointed out in my articles has come to pass.

    Also, for those who want to fan the flames of partisanship, remember this name: J. Edgar Hoover. He kept dish on everyone. Where do you think Bush and Obama learned it from?

  • Alex Gilgur: Seriously, when you post something public on a social network site of your choice, do you really assume that it will be visible to all in the world, but not to your government? And if you wanted your thoughts to remain private, why would you post them on FB, G+, here, or any other sites?
  • Boris Shmagin: "The Castle" by Franz Kafka; the movie is "Kafka" (1991) directed by Steven Soderbergh.I did not see jet "The Castle" (1968) "Das Schloß" (original title) directed by Rudolf Noelte
  • John Ogden: Gregory is quite right that there are real security risks, but if you don't know anyone who has been harassed, you need to get out more. Maybe the operative phrase is "by mistake", because this harassment is deliberate. I have direct, personal knowledge of a group trying to open a charter school in Columbus Ohio that is currently being gamed by the IRS. And the harassment extends beyond groups to private individuals. After the stories about the AP & Fox news "wire taps" (what a quaint phrase), a left of center source published a column "We are all Fox News now". And so it is with the each and every one of us with respect to the IRS, Prism, ....
  • Mark Lloyd: I agree with Gregory, we must remember the hue and cry over the "lack of coordination" among the agencies. That said, the reason we have a division of powers with judicial and legislative oversight of executive functions is that the ends don't always justify the means. Our judicial process currently favors the "innocent until proven guilty" approach which effectively means we would rather have some criminals go free unjustly than have innocents punished unjustly. Bravo for the young man who brought this to light. While secrecy has operational benefits, it also increases the risk of misuse or miscarriage of justice. There needs to be full accountability of this program for a democracy to thrive. Authoritarians justify their actions in the name of efficiency.
  • Gurinder Dua: Countries like India have been Struggling with Intrusion issues for a while now. They've probably known of their vulnerability all along, at least in the informed circles. today when it is being so hotly debated in terms of individual freedom, it is apparent what kind of influence "informed "US govt may have been exerting on pre designated "ill-informed" bureaucracy and political leadership. Can information deprived countries like India call themselves "independent , sovereign nations" ?
  • Dave Guevara: saw an interesting interview this AM on Bloomberg where the point was made that much of this surveillance was created after 9/11 under President Bush. However, it was truly covert and operated outside the bounds of US law. President Obama promised to bring it's oversite under lawful review (still classified, but no longer rogue). That happened. And in response to another thread, yes many threats that never make the news have been neutralized, but not all and clearly those threats are changing their stripes.

    The risk remains that absolute power corrupts. So capabilities that were formed from legitimate need may morph into unintended or undesired uses.

    We face the same risk in genome research, but then the argument shifts to what value is the benefit to mitigate some significant risks while accepting other potential risks.

  • Joseph Vito: Honestly, it's less about the program if we knew it was highly secure and was seen by an elite group of three letter acronym agencies. The problem is the government is too large, to redundant functionally, too focused on self preservation, and has lost an understanding of its role ... How do I know this? 5 million individuals have security access. That's the problem.
  • By Michael Mout: Frankly, I am surprised at how many professionsals are upset about this.

    Several Things:

    1. The bad guys are using modern technology for finding materials, directions for building weapons, money transfer, and other communications.

    2. As someone pointed out in the aftermath of any event there will be tons of finger pointing if it could be shown that the event could have been prevented only if this kind of program had been conducted.

    3. Anyone who has worked in fraud knows that the bad guys will do the simple things first, until they get caught and as the detection processes get more effective they become more sophisticated, especially when they know what data is being used for detection. So there is harm in this revelation.

    I do agree that too many people have clearances and too much stuff is classified, but, in this case the classification seemed to be appropriate.

  • Gregory Piatetsky-Shapiro: "I can't express how infuriated I am that my credit history, phone activity, and online browsing habits are being systematically collected and archived without my knowledge by undisclosed organizations that aren't trying to sell me products," said the visibly disturbed man, The Onion
  • Dave Guevara: Gregory: you highlight the fundamental issue. Is our privacy a right that requires opt-in where national security and threat detection are involved, as is the case in a commercial use of our data.
  • Michael Mout: Just out of curiosity, who would you trust more with your income tax information, a private company or the government?
  • Biplab Pal: We all know this is done using Big data classification or predictive data mining techniques. Legally this is no different than a Red light camera. Only if you break a "rule" or [ may be a false positive], your text will be pulled in as a "flag" to be analyzed by the analyst. As far as I know till this point, identity of the person remains unknown. Only if analyst confirms the sign of a wrong doing, they pull out all the information. I am not seeing any difference than what any intelligence agency does in real life policing. Much ado about nothing.
  • john procyk: The choices in this poll "this is a huge invasion of privacy" and "I expected something like this was going on" are not mutually exclusive. I am upset that this is going on, but not surprised.