Can the NSA really find meaningful patterns in phone records?
"There's a lot we still don't know -- and may never know -- about the National Security Agency's surveillance of Americans' phone calls. But one striking tidbit has emerged: that the agency is mining phone records for patterns of terrorist activity.
USA Today reported May 11 that the NSA was performing ``social network analysis'' to detect patterns of terrorist activity in its database of U.S. call records. In defending the program, Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., confirmed that the White House had told him the NSA was probing calling patterns to ``detect and track suspected terrorist activity.''
But is that really possible?
The ``tracking'' part makes sense. Assuming that intelligence had sussed out suspected terrorists, certainly the vast database could be used to track whom those people had called.
The ``detecting'' part, however, is another story. Can terrorists be spotted simply by analyzing who calls whom and when -- without any other leads? There's reason to be skeptical."