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David Simon weighs in on NSA surveillance

David Simon, the former Baltimore Sun crime reporter and creator of television show "The Wire," has weighed in reports of data collection efforts by the National Security Agency, asking, what's the fuss?

In a post on his blog, Simon compares the NSA's counterterrorism efforts to a Baltimore Police Department investigation in the 1980s that formed the basis for the first season of his television show.

Police thought that drug traffickers were using payphones and pagers to carry out their business, and rather than develop particular suspects, detectives planned to gather information on calls made using public phones in the city.

Simon writes:

"Certainly, the detectives knew that many, many Baltimoreans were using those pay phones for legitimate telephonic communication. Yet, a city judge had no problem allowing them to place dialed-number recorders on as many pay phones as they felt the need to monitor, knowing that every single number dialed to or from those phones would be captured."

Drawing on his experience as a reporter in Baltimore, Simon argues that Britain's Guardian newspaper, which broke the story that the NSA is collecting data on millions of Verizon customers, has whipped up a "faux scandal."

Simon argues that there is an important distinction between data about calls and the content of the calls themselves. Those Baltimore detectives decades ago had to give a judge a lot more information on their suspicions to eventually get a wiretap and eavesdrop on their target's conversations, he writes.

His take has attracted some national attention, sparked a lively discussion among his commenters, and was joined by a similar post by the City Paper's Edward Ericson Jr.

But others are not so comfortable with the government's data collection practices, which the Supreme Court this week expanded in another direction this week when it ruled on a Maryland DNA case.

The court permitted the state to continue taking DNA from people charged with crimes but not yet convicted. While law enforcement officials say the DNA law provides a valuable crime solving tool, the law's opponents say it unfairly makes anyone arrested for one crime a suspect in any other crime that has been logged in a genetic database.

And Stephen B. Mercer, head of the forensics division at the public defender's office, told the Sun's Justin Fenton that the decision could open the door to a universal DNA database of all citizens.

"All Marylanders who care about their genetic privacy should be alarmed and ready to explore political options," Mercer said.

iduncan@baltsun.com

twitter.com/iduncan

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