NSA Privacy Concerns Assert Serious Federal Sidestep

You don’t have to be a terrorist anymore. NSA data sharing is on course to be routinely used for domestic policing that has nothing to do with terrorism.  No, for real.

Brandon Davis, PoliticKING with Larry King, @therealfitzrio

     In a March 2012 letter to the attorney general, Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Mark Udall, D-Colo., wrote, “We believe most Americans would be stunned to learn the details” of how the government “has interpreted Section 215 of the Patriot Act.”  Because the program is classified, the senators offered no further details.  My initial takeaway: assume any power you grant the federal government to fight terrorism will eventually be used in other contexts.  Turns out, yup!  They want to see everything.

After the Patriot Act in 2001 passed, there has been a steady decline in privacy rights.  The common verbiage of defense from government officials has been geared toward terrorism, and suspects associated with crimes whose magnitude effect the general population’s well being.  Now the New York Times reports that National Security Agency data will be shared with other intelligence agencies like the FBI, without first applying any screens for privacy.

Until now, N.S.A analysts have filtered the surveillance material for other parts of the government.  They evaluate the information, and pass only the portions of phone calls or email they find pertinent on to other branches such as, the CIA, and FBI.  Before doing so, the N.S.A. will take steps to mask the names and any irrelevant information about innocent Americans, but it might be time to say goodbye to even that narrow boundary.  The new system would allow analysts at other intelligence agencies to get direct access to raw information from the N.S.A.’s surveillance, and then evaluate it for themselves.

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What would this change mean for you?  

Well, it depends on what we allow the government to do. The change would relax restrictions on access to the mass contents of phone calls and emails the security agency collects from around the world.  In short, the sharing of N.S.A information would allow your law enforcement officials to have access to huge amounts of American communications, gathered without warrants, that they can then use to lock away the “bad guys.”  What a resource…

What’s a little more telling is, according to analysis reported by The Washington Post, the number of times the government has knowingly snuck a look at this data has grown exponentially after the passing of the Patriot Act. It has grown from about 16 per year in 2001, to over 11,000 in 2013.  Out of 11,129 reports only 0.5% … or 51 requests were used for terrorism.  Fifty-one, out of eleven thousand.  The majority of requests (about 9,400) were overwhelmingly for narcotics cases.

Now, it’s okay to be a cynic. I’m not saying the government wants to come listen to your phone calls, spy on your emails and texts, and then lock you away for information they gathered without any warrants.  I’m just saying that we are giving them the exact power to do so.  That’s all.  I hope we all feel safer... which was the original intention after all, right?

If you’re like me and don’t think this is the best direction, get involved.  Moreover, let’s make those candidates, begging for our votes, answer some tough questions about American’s privacy rights this election.  It’s clearly time.

Timeline of Privacy Decline

  • In 2005, warrantless wire tapping was revealed, and in May of the same year the NSA was caught collecting data on phone records of millions of Americans. [Through three major phone companies: Verizon, AT&T, and BellSouth]
  • In Sept 2007, the FBI and the NSA got access to user data from Apple, Google, and others, under a top-secret program known as Prism.The Patriot Act continued to be renewed before it expired over the years, including once in 2010 when Obama – under pressure to make sure no provisions of the Patriot Act lapsed – became the first President to allow an “autopen” machine to be used in his stead while he was away from the U.S.
  • In 2012, it’s revealed that some surveillance used by the U.S government has violated the Constitutional prohibitions on unlawful search and seizure.
  • In April of 2013, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court Judge Roger Vinson issues a secret court order directing Verizon Business Network Services to turn over “metadata” -- including the time, duration and location of phone calls, citing Section 215 of the Patriot Act.

  • Early June of 2013, Edward Snowden, a former contractor for the CIA, leaks details of extensive internet and phone surveillance by American intelligence.

  • In 2014, the Guardian reveals NSA has collected almost 200 million text messages a day from across the globe, using them to extract data including location, contact networks, and credit card details.

  • In May 2015, a three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan ruled that Congress never authorized the collection of phone records and therefore the NSA’s program that does so is illegal. The panel allowed the program to continue, but called on Congress to amend the law.
  • 2016, FBI calls on Apple to break into a phone from the San Bernardino terrorist suspect, Apple has refused to comply.
  • Feb 25, 2016, New York Times announces Obama administration set to expand sharing of data that N.S.A Intercepts with other branches of government.


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