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What's in your file?
January 3, 2006 3:33 PM   Subscribe

Find out if the NSA's been keeping up on you. File a request with the National Security Agency to see your file. If, you know, you have one, of course.
posted by John of Michigan (54 comments total)

 
You'll probably get:


Records: 1
1. Requested own NSA file.

posted by null terminated at 3:36 PM on January 3, 2006


Don't you get it?!?! Requesting your file is exactly what they want you to do, man!
posted by Jimbob at 3:37 PM on January 3, 2006


A friend of mine made a request under the New Zealand Official Information Act for whatever was held on him by our Security Intelligence Service. They declined to provide anything, on the grounds that a malicious person, through a careful series of requests, might be able to make inferences about their methods and the people they want to target.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 3:40 PM on January 3, 2006


If you were a decent citizen you would not have a file. If you have one, you are a bad person.
posted by Postroad at 3:41 PM on January 3, 2006


Requesting your file is exactly what they want you to do, man!

you can put your weed in there, man!
posted by quonsar at 3:45 PM on January 3, 2006


I'm 99% certain I have a file, because I worked at a subversive (and very politically active) college radio station during the elder Bush years, and because one of my working-at-the-radio-station girlfriends at the time converted to Muslim shortly before 9/11.

I certainly got pulled out of line a few times after 9/11 as well at the airport, although it doesn't happen now.
posted by davejay at 3:47 PM on January 3, 2006


Don't do it. You'll only be disappointed... disappointed that they don't have a file on you, disappointed that they know too much (like how much cash you've blown on strippers and crank), and certainly disappointed each and every time you fly that you are subjected to a body cavity search.
posted by Davenhill at 3:53 PM on January 3, 2006


Normally, I would find it comical that someone who worked at a college radio station would think that this, along with a Muslim ex-girlfriend, would warrant them a "file,' but he's probably Public Enemy #1 based on our intelligence gathering.
posted by 235w103 at 3:54 PM on January 3, 2006


and certainly disappointed each and every time you fly that you are subjected to a body cavity search.

In that case, I'll request Dios's file. Heh.
posted by davejay at 3:54 PM on January 3, 2006


235w103, if I remember correctly back in the day (early 90s), to get an FCC license to broadcast you had to file various government papers and whatnot, and there were strict oversight rules about obscenity and equal time (also no longer true) so presumably a cursory background check was in the cards for all applicants. If I'm 99% sure I have a file, I'm also 99% sure that file only has info on the license and the girlfriend (and only because she's a prominent and outspoken Muslim convert).

But yeah, back then I would have scoffed at such talk. I kind of prided myself on being the only person at the radio station who could actually get a job in radio, and used to tease the hard-core politicos who said "they're gonna shut us down for our beliefs" by pointing out that they'd played songs with obscenities at least three times that day, so if they were going to be shut down they'd provided the perfect excuse.
posted by davejay at 4:00 PM on January 3, 2006


If you've ever applied for a government job which requires any special level of clearence then you have an NSA file. Request if you feel inclined.
posted by thecollegefear at 4:04 PM on January 3, 2006


Does the NSA only keep files on political stuff or are they interested in other doings and associations, too? I'm asking on behalf of a friend.
posted by jonmc at 4:09 PM on January 3, 2006


Painfully slow site. Was this slashdotted too, or is the page on hold until they reconfigure a satellite to see if I'm wearing pants as I type?
posted by jdfalk at 4:19 PM on January 3, 2006


Click the FPP, get a cookie. Free cookies!
posted by digaman at 4:20 PM on January 3, 2006


If you were a decent citizen you would not have a file. If you have one, you are a bad person.

The thing is, the definition of decent citizen versus bad person seems to be pretty elastic these days.

I continue to be amazed at how much erosion of civil liberties Americans have put up with over the past several years.
posted by Zinger at 4:24 PM on January 3, 2006


Zinger writes "I continue to be amazed at how much erosion of civil liberties Americans have put up with over the past several years."

I don't think we were ever allowed to bring 5 1/2 inch knives onto planes, were we?
posted by mr_roboto at 4:39 PM on January 3, 2006


OH GOD, A BUTTAER KNIEF! WE AER GOING TO DIES!



hold me george bush, I frightened
posted by stenseng at 4:45 PM on January 3, 2006




You can request your records

"By electronic e-mail complete with a digital signature. This signature is required for all e-mail submissions. Requests without a digital signature will not be processed. "

I notice they have electronic e-mail these days. And I have no idea what a digital signature is supposed to be.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 5:13 PM on January 3, 2006


If you're in the USA, wouldn't you want to see your FBI file instead? The NSA shouldn't be keeping track of your domestic activities, except as they could be revealed by interception of foreign communications. Even the recently revealed warrantless wiretaps were supposed to be on international calls from/to the US.
posted by monocyte at 5:18 PM on January 3, 2006


I don't think we were ever allowed to bring 5 1/2 inch knives onto planes, were we?

Possibly not, but that's not the point of that article.

"You've committed a felony," Beaman says a security screener announced. "And you're considered a terrorist."... "They said 'no' and they said it's a national security issue. And I said what about my constitutional rights? And they said 'not at this point ... you don't have any'."

One of many incidents I've read about.

I was also in the US a couple of years ago, travelling back from North Dakota on Greyhound... it was about 3 a.m. and absolutely nothing was going on in the bus, as most everyone was asleep. We were pulled over by a state trooper who boarded the bus and kicked people awake, shone a flashlight in a few faces (completely at random, it was clearly not a search for a particular person) and rifled through bits of luggage - all without a word of explanation. I remember being all rather stunned at how meek and compliant everyone was. Not one person so much as asked the officer what was going on.
posted by Zinger at 5:19 PM on January 3, 2006


I'm not too afraid of an organization who can be slashdotted.
posted by geoff. at 5:23 PM on January 3, 2006


jonmc
At this point NSA has marked where the traffic is coming from, has conducted an investigation taking a look at the posters, determined who needs further investigation, read your commentary and found out who your friend (and you, and me) is and is formulating a response. This happened as soon as the link was posted and people started inquiring about all this. Sorry to be the bearer of bad tidings. . . I hope your 'friend' and you are on the QT. Run and hide. Run and hide. . . Oh, and if you have any suspicious break-ins over the next few days or weeks, let us know. The signs you'll want to look for is nothing is taken, just stuff thrown around and perhaps nothing of significance is missing. Spare change, half a bottle of vermouth, that kind of thing . . .
posted by mk1gti at 5:43 PM on January 3, 2006


Zinger writes "'You've committed a felony,' Beaman says a security screener announced. 'And you're considered a terrorist.'... 'They said "no" and they said it's a national security issue. And I said what about my constitutional rights? And they said "not at this point ... you don't have any".'"

The TSA goons said something stupid. That doesn't make it true, fortunately.
posted by mr_roboto at 5:53 PM on January 3, 2006


monocyte has it right...now, try getting a file via FBI using Freedom of Information Act. Catch-22. Here is what Igot. Put in request for my brother for info on a crime where he was victim and suspected a govt informer was part of the 3 people who "psestered" him. The packet came back with everything blacked out except the words And, But, If, So etc. at the bottom the notation: If you think that you were not given sufficient information etc please cite passages in THIS document (blacked out) to appeal! Sure.
posted by Postroad at 5:57 PM on January 3, 2006


Postroad writes "The packet came back with everything blacked out except the words And, But, If, So etc. at the bottom the notation: If you think that you were not given sufficient information etc please cite passages in THIS document (blacked out) to appeal! "

I wonder if that joke ever gets old for the guy with the black marker....
posted by mr_roboto at 5:59 PM on January 3, 2006


I wonder if I have a file?

*submits request*

Oh bummer I dont

(meanwhile on the NSA server)

*New File Created....
*04/01/06: Indervidual requested file
*04/01/06: Possible Terrorist
*04/01/06: Add to Watch List
*04/01/06: Maintain Surveillance
posted by lemonfridge at 5:59 PM on January 3, 2006


I hear that if you request a file and they don't have one, they'll start one for free... now don't try to say your government isn't responding to those requests!
posted by clevershark at 6:01 PM on January 3, 2006


Damn, is that where the vermouth went?
posted by dejah420 at 6:02 PM on January 3, 2006


The NSA shouldn't be keeping track of your domestic activities, except as they could be revealed by interception of foreign communications. Even the recently revealed warrantless wiretaps were supposed to be on international calls from/to the US.

Shouldn't be. . .supposed to be. . .

"We're not chartered for domestic surveillance."
posted by EarBucket at 6:11 PM on January 3, 2006


Click the FPP, get a cookie. Free cookies!

Actually, it looks like they got that fixed. In any case, the stupid, stupid NSA cookie brouhaha was caused by a ColdFusion MX upgrade - the NSA's using the same software that MetaFilter is, and the cookies in question were simply the two default cookies created by a default installation of ColdFusion when Session or Client variables are used by an application.
posted by me & my monkey at 6:17 PM on January 3, 2006


OMGWTF !!! Metafilter is NSA ! ! ! NSA is Metafilter ! ! ! O Noes ! ! !
posted by mk1gti at 6:21 PM on January 3, 2006


I have no idea what a digital signature is supposed to be.
My best guess would be a message signed with your PGP or GnuPG key, with the public key available on public key servers.

But then again, isn't the government firmly opposed to the use of PGP/GnuPG by private terrori--er, citizens?
posted by nlindstrom at 6:42 PM on January 3, 2006


I wonder if that joke ever gets old for the guy with the black marker...
It didn't for Yossarian. ;)
posted by nlindstrom at 6:43 PM on January 3, 2006


davejay, I'd be ASTOUNDED if you actually had a file, even in this Orwellian of eras.
posted by shoepal at 6:47 PM on January 3, 2006


I find T.Top scarier.
posted by damclean2 at 7:09 PM on January 3, 2006


T. Top induces massive projectile vomiting. . . Please, make it stop . . .
posted by mk1gti at 7:35 PM on January 3, 2006


Man, I keep reading that link as "Find out if NASA's been keeping up on you".
posted by 40 Watt at 7:58 PM on January 3, 2006


the NSA's using the same software that MetaFilter is

Oh boy.
posted by clevershark at 8:00 PM on January 3, 2006


The TSA goons said something stupid. That doesn't make it true, fortunately.

Hmm. If it was my govt that had wire taps being authorized in spite of Congress' saying no, and secret prisons in foreign countries and so on, personally I'd be a bit less blasé about this sort of thing. But as long as you all are fine with it...
posted by Zinger at 8:15 PM on January 3, 2006


Zinger, I don't think anyone's fine about it, just kind of trying to giggle in denial as much as they can while acknowledging the foreboding truth: Stalinist 'murica. . . Pray for us all . . .
posted by mk1gti at 8:24 PM on January 3, 2006


When I get so old I'm reduced to being a spectator, I'm requesting my FBI file so I can find out what I was doing.

NSA surveils immediate family members of NSA employees, so if you're a friend of somebody who has a close relative at the NSA, you are likely to appear in their records. No big deal, they're watching out for their own people.
posted by warbaby at 9:46 PM on January 3, 2006


My Mum has a file with ASIO due to my commie grandfather. In a couple of years I'm told I will be getting one during my chemistry studies at uni.

I don't get to see any ASIO file, so don't feel like America doesn't offer any liberties!
posted by Serial Killer Slumber Party at 10:00 PM on January 3, 2006


If you want a digital signature.
http://www.digsigtrust.com/federal/aces_public_1.html
posted by IronWolve at 11:20 PM on January 3, 2006


If I don't have a file of my own I know I am at least in one. My cousin works for the NSA. He's the ordinary looking one in the family.
posted by chance at 12:33 AM on January 4, 2006


shoepal:

You have surprising faith in the competence of an agency with no serious accountability and thus no real barrier against spiralling institutional incompentence.

The "they wouldn't do that because it's so damn stupid that anyone with even half an ounce of common sense would know better" rational Just Doesn't Work when it comes to the documented activities of institutions that have guarentees they'll never suffer transparency or serious public scrutiney.

And that's just what's on the public record.

People who have held high security clearance will tell you that much (perhaps even most) of the stuff kept secret for "national security" reasons is really labelled secret for embarressing/illegal/outrageous/dirty-laundry/blatent-incompetence/etc reasons, ie "national security" is incredibly useful for such things, (which ironically make the country less secure, by preventing the people from knowing about things that really need to be fixed immediately). And no party or politician would think of changing this, because the same shield is so useful for saving their own ass too.

Ie the public record is the tip of the iceberg of jaw-dropping incompetence.

This touches on what is to me, a really interesting question - how could you make an intelligence agency that is even half as competent as a halfwit? Secrecy seems to preclude public accountability and thus guarentee the rise of institutionalized incompetence. Lack of secrecy seems to preclude success in many of the functions the agency is supposed to perform. A security-cleared person to "watch the watchers" on behalf of the people without telling of what he sees, is a widely practised arrangement around the world, meaning there is a lot of evidence as to whether it works, and the evidence shows it doesn't work in present incarnations, (though is considerably better than nothing, which is success if you set the bar low enough).
Tricky problem to solve.
posted by -harlequin- at 4:46 AM on January 4, 2006


Whenever I see the acronym "NSA" I keep thinking of those dream sequences in Brazil where Sam Lowry in archangel drag is fighting the disappearing giant samurai -- they're a little like that, with all the institutional secretiveness.

I've half a mind to see if I have a file, just out of idle curiousity. I've had maybe two phone conversations with someone in Europe since 9/11, so there's a nonzero chance that they'd have a file on me. Paranoia makes for interesting intellectual diversion.
posted by alumshubby at 5:28 AM on January 4, 2006


Meh, I'm pretty sure I have a file either at FBI or NSA by now owing to:

1. 1995 security-cleared tour of the West Wing
2. 2003 I did this [self-link, but relevant]

Pretty sure I've been marked "innocuous through apathy" by now, though.
posted by LondonYank at 7:16 AM on January 4, 2006


Whenever I see the acronym "NSA" I keep thinking of those dream sequences in Brazil

Bah, I always think of Sneakers, myself:

Crease: Now what are you saying, the NSA killed Kennedy?
Mother: No, they shot him but they didn't kill him. He's still alive.

...or...

Martin Bishop: You know I could have been in the NSA, but they found out my parents were married.
posted by thanotopsis at 7:33 AM on January 4, 2006


mr_roboto writes "I don't think we were ever allowed to bring 5 1/2 inch knives onto planes"

At one time, not all that long ago, you could step up to the ticket agent at the last minute and buy a one way ticket at the last minute price in cash. Then immediately get on the plane. No ID, no searches, not even a metal detector. Flying was like riding a greyhound bus, just faster. The only things you weren't allowed to bring on the plane were substances deemed dangerous to the airframe itself by the FAA. Stuff like gasoline and aerosols. It wasn't until the mid 60s and hijackings became a problem that they installed metal detectors.
posted by Mitheral at 9:36 AM on January 4, 2006


As a follow-up to the above, I used to regularly have very sharp tools in my carry-on luggage: wood planes, chisels, carving gouges, etc. All are sharp as razors. While the leading cutting edges are often short the overall tool length is up to 12" and each would make a formidable weapon. /snicker at mention of 12" tool
posted by Dick Paris at 1:39 PM on January 4, 2006


i have gone back and forth on the FBI file thing. i've always thought, well, why on earth would anyone bother? and then i found out that my mother (in the 50s) got asked about the guy who ran her bicycling club in college when she applied for a job at a DoD school because he was apparently a red.

so i always figured my "file" started the day i signed the register at a Communist Labor Party national conference with my real name. or when i worked at a bookstore run by commies. (commies were out of style, and it was the 90s, but who knows?) more than likely, if they missed me all through the early 90s, it might have been when i was the temporary spokesperson for Earth First! during an action. now those are some terrrists, right? half the organization is a front for ELves, they say. and according to the recent news articles on the ELF arrestees, infiltrators abound. (which of course, they would if they really believe in "ecoterrorists.")

thus, i figure there is no such thing as an EF! action without an infiltrator--or any action that might be seen as somehow significant by TPTB. when the guy i figured for the obvious one (bragging about how he traveled to all these parts of the world that just happened to be US hotspots like Eritrea, the Middle East... cozying up to me when i mouthed off less-than-dismissively about the Unabomber in a sleep-deprived stupor) stayed over at my house, i left all my journals out so that if he really was a fed, he'd find out i was just a big mouthed scatterbrain. i kind of hope he spent all night trying to figure out my handwriting.

the thing that makes it all random and funny is that if they'll waste however many thousands (or hundreds of thousands--millions?) of dollars testing Muslim parking lots for radiation, or compiling the names of anti-war activists and putting them on no-fly lists... well why would we put it past them?

and yes, i always figured that if you asked for your file, they'd wonder why you thought you deserved one.

my favorite story goes to Utah Phillips: he tells about how he knew the feds were reading his mail, and he'd been delayed in getting home for planting the garden. so he wrote to his wife to for god's sake not dig in the garden because that's where the guns were buried. so by the time he gets home, the garden's been all torn up by the freddies and it's ready to go. (truth or fiction?)
posted by RedEmma at 2:22 PM on January 4, 2006


it might have been when i was the temporary spokesperson for Earth First! during an action.

My best friend was a member of Earth First for a few years and attended speeches by Dave Foreman where they were all warned that there were Feds in the audience taking notes.

That same buddy is a cop in Honolulu now. So I guess whatever file he had didn't hurt him too much. FWIW.
posted by jonmc at 5:57 PM on January 4, 2006


About a month before 9/11 my friend flew cross country with a big folding knife in his carry-on. He wasn't supposed to, I guess, but nobody stopped him.
posted by grumdrig at 7:55 PM on January 4, 2006


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