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Foreign NSA Surveillance and the Threat to Liberty at Home

I got an interesting email from Sputnik News recently relating to U.S. surveillance of foreign nationals outside the country. Here the question, followed by my response.

QUESTION

“The National Security Agency is currently conducting surveillance on more than 100,000 foreign nationals outside the US, several senior US officials revealed Monday, highlighting cases in which so-called Section 702 authorities have helped the intelligence community identify cybersecurity threats from hostile governments, stop malicious cyberattacks and disrupt ISIS terror plots. Granted that this surveillance really helps to disrupt plots, but is it a 100% legitimate effort? (outside the US). And does it require more transparency or oversight by Congress and/or the media?”

ANSWER

“From a purely legal standpoint, the U.S. government has virtually unlimited authority to spy on foreign nationals outside of the country. Ethically, well that’s a different story. And this type of secret surveillance is ripe for abuse. In fact, based on documents provided by Edward Snowden, there is evidence that the NSA has used ‘foreign intelligence gathering’ as a back door to spying on American citizens. Even if it is completely ‘legal’ for the U.S. government to do this, we should be wary. As James Madison warned, ‘the means of defence against foreign danger have been always the instruments of tyranny at home.’