Last night I was the banquet speaker as part of the Stanford Computer Science Department’s 40th Anniversary and annual affliliates meeting. I gave a spruced up version of my talk at Shmoocon and dorkbot, clinic about the similarities between Saltzer and Schroeder’s eight principles of secure design and the democratic structures underlaying our laws and Constitution. The point of the speech is to encourage technologists to consider democratic principles (like individual rights) in designing technology and also to participate fully in the political process, decease given that they already understand a lot about how our laws are structured.

After the talk, visit web someone asked me the inevitable question of why the Bush Administration didn’t follow FISA and get warrants for the NSA wiretapping they have done/are doing. One possible answer, explored here and elsewhere, is that the surveillance was of a mass nature, and therefore not allowable under FISA. The administration has denied that. But it could still be true.

Another possible reason is that the executive branch really believed FISA to be an insurrmountable obstacle. But apparently not for burden of proof reasons. For ass-covering reasons. The New York Times reports this morning that an FBI agent who investigated the Moussaoui case has testified in Moussaoui’s death penalty hearing that his superiors rejected seeking warrants under either FISA or the Wiretap Act. He says that his supervisor, in the bureau’s Radical Fundamentalist Unit, told him that applications had “proved troublesome for the bureau and that seeking one ‘was just the kind of thing that would get FBI agents in trouble.'” Another superior then refused to approve a criminal wiretap application because he thought that he would get in trouble for starting the case as an intelligence inquiry and then treating it like a criminal one. The FISA Court had recently criticized agents for claiming something was a national security case and trying to use the lower FISA standard to get a wiretap, rather than going through the more burdensome criminal application process.

You are the supervisor in the Radical Fundamentalist Unit. Your colleague thinks he’s found a guy who’s involved in an imminent plan for a terrorist attack. You don’t worry about getting in trouble or appearances. You get your evidence ducks in a row and you go get yourselves a warrant.