You don’t have to have done something wrong; you simply have to eventually fall under suspicion from somebody, even by a wrong call. Then they can use the system to go back in time and scrutinize every decision you’ve ever made, every friend you’ve ever discussed something with, and attack you on that basis, to sort of derive suspicion from an innocent life and paint anyone into the context of a wrongdoer. —Edward Snowden
Lest you doubt Edward Snowden’s explanation of how the NSA’s dragnet might ensnare the innocent, Gail Collins’ column in today’s New York Times, “The Other Side of the Story” cites the Kafkaesque example of Brandon Mayfield of Portland, WA:
Based on a database mismatch of a suspicious fingerprint on a plastic bag tied to the Madrid bombing in Spain, where Mayfield had never set foot, agents obtained a secret warrant, broke into and searched his home. His 12-year-old daughter was terrified; she noticed someone had been in her room and had messed with her computer. The family became paranoid—for good reason. FBI agents walked into Mayfield’s office one day, handcuffed and took him away. He spent weeks in jail, imagining the worst. Spanish authorities, doubtful of the US fingerprint match, found the culprit who was the real match, and Mayfield was released.
What could possibly be more compelling than the fact that no one in the family had been to Spain? Well, the sophisticated government database that mismatched his fingerprint, correctly showed that Mayfield, who grew up in Kansas, after graduating from college, law school and serving in the Army, married an Egyptian immigrant and converted to Islam. He eventually got a rare FBI apology and $2 million for his trouble. “But you never quite get over these things,” Mayfield said. “It was a harrowing ordeal. It was terrifying.”
For more on the Brandon Mayfield case: