Oversight: Crowdsourcing the NSA's surveillance programs

Geek comedian Tom Scott imagines citizen volunteers accessing the real-time data store of spy agencies to help keep the country safe.

Screenshot by CNET

Imagine that the NSA and the U.K.'s GCHQ opened their databases and tools to public volunteers to aid them in the search for terrorists. Tom Scott, who is described as a British geek comedian, programmer, and presenter, produced a video, "Oversight: Thank you for volunteering, citizen," that imagines ordinary citizens accessing the databases of everything about everyone to assist governments in their surveillance activities.

Scott's "Oversight" program lets ordinary citizens click on potential threats as they are logged, such as an e-mail with the words "blowing things up" in it; view the information; and add information to spy agency databases.

"Is it a jokey e-mail between friends? Or a serious incident worth reporting to the police," the presenter asks. "You now have the tools to find out. You can read the subject lines of e-mails, the Web sites they visited, information from social networks, location history, credit card purchases, and information about friends and family." If that's not enough information, Oversight lets citizen volunteers click to apply for a search warrant, which is normally granted in 15 to 30 seconds.

It's a bit beyond the Department of Homeland Security's "If you see something, say something" campaign.


Scott told CNET that the video has been well received, but a lot of people find it unsettling. "There have been a few replies from people who said they'd sign up as a volunteer right away. One or two have even said that they'd actually be in favor of setting up Oversight. Provided, of course, that there were 'safeguards' in place," he said.

(Via Buzzfeed)