Crotchety old man and federal judge William H. Pauley III ruled today, out of his ivory tower at 500 Pearl Street, that NSA phone spying is lawful. As if he were a hired spokeshole for the government, he concluded that “Telephony metadata would have furnished the missing information and might have permitted the N.S.A. to notify the Federal Bureau of Investigation of the fact that al-Mihdhar was calling the Yemeni safe house from inside the United States” — in other words, that NSA spying may have prevented 9/11.
Of course, we all know that the spying program would have had no chance at preventing 9/11, since we already knew that these guys were terrorists. It was not due to lack of information that 9/11 was a successful day for the Al Qaeda crew, but rather because we failed to actually do anything with the information we had — perhaps because we already had so much information that it became possible to act upon. You see, when you have four Libraries of Congresses worth of data being ingested every day (back in 2011!), you can’t possibly do anything useful with that data proactively. All you do is flood your investigators with a flow of information that dilutes the useful intelligence gleaned through more narrow (and lawful) means.
The ruling is not surprising to me, because I sat before Judge Pauley in a 2008 civil case, Twelve Inches Around Corp. v. Cisco Systems, Inc. The Plaintiff was one of my startups, and the case was asking for damages after Cisco, who didn’t like my business idea, got my company’s Web site shut down by filing a false trademark infringement notice with my Web host (we ended up settling before trial). During pre-trial hearings, Judge Pauley, quite simply, seemed upset that he should have to waste his time on the case, and displayed a level of interest, patience, and cool-headedness below that of any other federal judge whom I’ve had the pleasure of appearing before. That Judge Pauley failed to grasp the severity of the intrusion on our privacy is entirely expected. He is, quite simply, an asshole.
Luckily, a couple weeks ago a few hundred miles south in a small town called D.C., a judge ruled the exact opposite of Mr. Grumpypants here in New York, increasing the odds that we shall see a resolution of the conflicting opinions by the U.S. Supreme Court.