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Border Patrol and TSA Allowed to Secretly Spy on Everyone’s Social Media Accounts

The U.S. Border Patrol (CBP) and the TSA claim they need to secretly spy on everyone’s social media accounts so they can understand a person’s relationship with their friends, family and the government. Continue reading Border Patrol and TSA Allowed to Secretly Spy on Everyone’s Social Media Accounts

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Documents Reveal More Details About Massive Federal Telephone Surveillance Program

Documents obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) reveal more about a super-secretive partnership between federal agents and AT&T to run a massive telephone surveillance program. Continue reading Documents Reveal More Details About Massive Federal Telephone Surveillance Program

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Virginia Bill Would Restrict Police Access to Historical Location Data, Thwart Federal Surveillance Program

RICHMOND, Va. (Jan. 16, 2018) – A Virginia bill would end warrantless collection of a person’s historical location data. The legislation would not only increase privacy protections in the state, it would also hinder some federal surveillance programs.

Continue reading Virginia Bill Would Restrict Police Access to Historical Location Data, Thwart Federal Surveillance Program

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Documents Reveal Chilling Details about Terrorist Watchlist

Leaked documents obtained by the Intercept from an intelligence community source reveals chilling details on government tracking of “terrorism” suspects, including the use of biometric data and loose standards for placing people on the watchlist.

According a report by the Intercept, of the 680,000 people on the terrorist watchlist, the government classifies some 40 percent as having “no recognized terrorist group affiliation.” In other words, the federal government tracks some 280,000 people without any proven links to terrorism.

Former FBI Special Agent David Gomez told the Intercept that the watchlisting system  is “revving out of control.”

“If everything is terrorism, then nothing is terrorism,” he said.

The documents also reveal that the “no-fly” list ballooned ten-fold since Pres. Obama took office to an all-time high of 47,000 people as of August 2013.

The term “watchlist” actually refers to the Terrorist Screening Database, (TSDB). According to the Intercept the TSDB is “an unclassified pool of information shared across the intelligence community and the military, as well as local law enforcement, foreign governments, and private contractors.”

According to the government’s watchlisting guidelines, published by The Intercept last month, officials don’t need ‘concrete facts’ or ‘irrefutable evidence’ to secretly place someone on the list—only a vague and elastic standard of ‘reasonable suspicion.’

Hina Shamsi, the head of the ACLU’s National Security Project, reviewed the criteria for the Intercept.

“Instead of a watchlist limited to actual, known terrorists, the government has built a vast system based on the unproven and flawed premise that it can predict if a person will commit a terrorist act in the future,” she said.  “On that dangerous theory, the government is secretly blacklisting people as suspected terrorists and giving them the impossible task of proving themselves innocent of a threat they haven’t carried out.”

The government also keeps another database, and it takes even less suspicion to get a person place on it and under the gaze of federal snoops. According to the Intercept, most people on the watchlist start out on a classified list know as the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (TIDE).

The TIDE database actually allows for targeting people based on far less evidence than the already lax standards used for placing people on the watchlist. A more expansive—and invasive—database, TIDE’s information is shared across the U.S. intelligence community, as well as with commando units from the Special Operations Command and with domestic agencies such as the New York City Police Department.

According to the released documents, the feds monitor 320,000 additional people under the larger TIDE database. That puts the number of individuals on under the government microscope at over 1 million. The Intercept reports that as of the Summer of 2013, the watchlist included 5,000 Americans, with another 15,800 targeted in TIDE.

And the feds share all of this information with other agencies including state and local law enforcement, through fusion centers and other channels.

This includes biometric data.

The Intercept report reveals the government “covertly collects and analyzes a wide range of personal information about those individuals –including facial images, fingerprints, and iris scans.” According to the leaked documents, the main terrorism database holds 860,000 biometric files on 144,000 people. That includes “half a million facial images, nearly a quarter of a million fingerprints and 70,000 iris scans.”

“We’re getting into Minority Report territory when being friends with the wrong person can mean the government puts you in a database and adds DMV photos, iris scans, and face recognition technology to track you secretly and without your knowledge,” Shamsi, told the Intercept. “The fact that this information can be shared with agencies from the CIA to the NYPD, which are not known for protecting civil liberties, brings us closer to an invasive and rights-violating government surveillance society at home and abroad.”

The government collects and stores all of this information without probable cause and without a warrant. When it comes to chasing “terrorists,” the Fourth Amendment does not apply. Many Americans enthusiastically go along with illegal spying, allowing their fear of a “terrorist threat” to override any concern about privacy rights or constitutional fidelity. But according to many former members of the intelligence community, all of this snooping and spying doesn’t even work as advertised.

“You might as well have a blue wand and just pretend there’s magic in it, because that’s what we’re doing with this—pretending that it works,” former FBI agent Michael German, and current fellow at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice said. “These agencies see terrorism as a winning card for them. They get more resources. They know that they can wave that card around and the American public will be very afraid and Congress and the courts will allow them to get away with whatever they’re doing under the national security umbrella.”


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Spying on Innocents


In what appears to be one of Edward Snowden’s final revelations, the former CIA and NSA agent has demonstrated conclusively that the National Security Agency has collected and analyzed the contents of emails, text messages, and mobile and landline telephone calls from nine non-targeted U.S. residents for every one U.S. resident it has targeted.

This puts the lie to the government’s claims that it has only collected metadata — identifying markers such as phone numbers and email addresses — and not content from unsuspecting and unsuspected Americans. It puts the lie to the government’s claims that it has studiously avoided prying into the private lives of Americans, in whom it has no intelligence-related or lawful interest. And this puts the lie to the government’s contentions and the opinions of judges of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that the NSA’s spying is somehow lawful, constitutional and helpful.

We now know that the government has failed effectively to refute the Snowden claims that it has collected and maintained for future access massive amounts of personal materials about nearly all people in America since 2009. This includes the metadata and content of nearly every telephone call, email and text message made, sent or received in the U.S., as well as nearly every credit card bill, utility bill and monthly bank statement of nearly every person in the U.S.

This was accomplished through the issuance of general warrants by FISA court judges. General warrants do not particularly describe the place to be searched or the person or thing to be seized as the Constitution requires. General warrants authorize the bearer to use the power of government to search wherever he wishes. The use by British troops of general warrants was a principal motivation for the American Revolution, and the very purpose and literal wording of the Fourth Amendment was to outlaw and prohibit them.

Nevertheless, in their lust to appear muscular in our constitutionally sad post-9/11 era, politicians from both major political parties have defied the plain meaning and universally accepted history of the right to privacy and reverted to these odious instruments so condemned by the nation’s founders and the Constitution’s framers.

The recent Snowden revelations showed that about 900,000 innocent U.S. residents — including President Barack Obama himself — were subjected to heavy NSA scrutiny. This was done by NSA agents who knew that the subjects of their scrutiny were not the targets of their investigation.

How could that happen? It happened because the FISA court meets in secret, where the NSA has no opposition and the court has no transparency. This volatile mix has resulted in that court’s granting well over 99 percent of NSA applications, including the “hop” rule implicated in the scrutiny of innocent Americans.

In NSA-speak, a hop is a jump from one telephone conversation to another using a common phone.

In the sterile, isolated and secret environment of the FISA court — where even the judges cannot keep records of their own decisions — NSA agents and lawyers have persuaded judges to permit spying on people who are six hops from a target. Thus, by way of illustration, if A is a target and speaks with B, the NSA can listen to all of B’s conversations, even those not with A. The leap from A to B is one hop, and the NSA gets six, so it can listen to any C who has spoken to B, any D who has spoken to any C, any E who has spoken to any D, any F who has spoken to any E and any G who has spoken to any F.

The 900,000 innocent U.S. residents whose private and personal lives have been subjected to NSA scrutiny — including the examination of their photographs, intimate personal behavior, medical and financial needs — consist of those who are within six hops from a target; in the illustration above, that would be every B, C, D, E, F and G whom the NSA can find. According to Snowden, there is no effort made by the NSA to minimize the scrutiny of those who are in the B-G category — even though the chances that any of them are in cahoots with A are extremely remote, particularly once the NSA gets beyond B.

But remoteness does not trouble the NSA, and neither does the Constitution. Remoteness is a serious constitutional and practical problem. It violates the rights of known innocents, as the NSA has no constitutional or lawful authority to spy on any non-targets and FISA court judges have no power to authorize that spying. It also consumes the time and resources of NSA agents, whose job it is to find terror plots.

Is it any wonder that the Boston Marathon bombers discussed their plans with friends using their cellphones and the NSA missed it? Is it any wonder that when Gen. Keith Alexander, who ran the NSA for five years, was asked under oath how many plots his agents had uncovered with their spying on all Americans, he replied 57 and then the next day changed that reply to three and then was unable or unwilling to identify the supposed three? Is it any wonder that the two non-FISA court federal judges who scrutinized all this both found that it has uncovered no plots?

When the government sees or hears all, it knows all. And when the people tolerate a government that knows all, they will be afraid to be themselves. And the joy of being and expressing oneself is the very reason we have a Constitution designed to restrain government.

James Madison warned that the loss of liberty rarely happens in one great event but rather happens gradually, over time, resulting from the actions of government officials who claim to be fortifying security. He practically predicted today’s events. The violations of our rights are obvious, undenied and undeniable. Yet what Madison probably feared most, he did not articulate: Once lost, liberty is lost forever.

Reprinted with the author’s permission.

Andrew P. Napolitano [send him mail], a former judge of the Superior Court of New Jersey, is the senior judicial analyst at Fox News Channel. Judge Napolitano has written seven books on the U.S. Constitution. The most recent is Theodore and Woodrow: How Two American Presidents Destroyed Constitutional Freedom. To find out more about Judge Napolitano and to read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit

Copyright © 2014 Andrew P. Napolitano