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It’s Time to Get Our Heads Out of the Sand, Acknowledge the Truth About NSA Spying

“If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to worry about.”

“They don’t spy on everyday Americans.”

“They don’t store truly personal information, just “meta-data.” It doesn’t violate your privacy.”

I hear comments like this all the time when I bring up NSA spying.

But while so many Americans enjoy the sense of comfort they feel with their heads buried in the sand, the NSA and other federal agencies continue to gather and store reams of personal information belonging to American not involved in any sort of terrorist investigation.

After a four-month investigation, the Washington Post published a report last week about recorded conversations intercepted from U.S. digital networks by the NSA provided to the paper by Edward Snowden. According to the report, “Ordinary Internet users, American and non-American alike, far outnumber legally targeted foreigners.”

Nine out of 10 conversation in the extensive cache involved people who were not intended surveillance targets. Yet the information was stored by the NSA anyway.

Let that sink in for a moment.

Nine out of 10.

Ninety out of 100.

Nine hundred out of 1,000.

The post reviewed 160,000 email and instant message conversations, and more than 7,000 documents from more than 11,000 accounts. Take a moment and do the math.

Many of them were Americans. Nearly half of the surveillance files, a strikingly high proportion, contained names, e-mail addresses or other details that the NSA marked as belonging to U.S. citizens or residents. NSA analysts masked, or “minimized,” more than 65,000 such references to protect Americans’ privacy, but The Post found nearly 900 additional e-mail addresses, unmasked in the files, that could be strongly linked to U.S. citizens or U.S. residents.”

What kind of information did the NSA store?

Many other files, described as useless by the analysts but nonetheless retained, have a startlingly intimate, even voyeuristic quality. They tell stories of love and heartbreak, illicit sexual liaisons, mental-health crises, political and religious conversions, financial anxieties and disappointed hopes. The daily lives of more than 10,000 account holders who were not targeted are catalogued and recorded nevertheless.

“Scores of pictures show infants and toddlers in bathtubs, on swings, sprawled on their backs and kissed by their mothers. In some photos, men show off their physiques. In others, women model lingerie, leaning suggestively into a webcam or striking risque poses in shorts and bikini tops.”

Consider that even with “minimization” efforts to obscure names and email accounts, one can glean a great deal of information from a photo, especially with the advent of facial recognition technology.

Snowden said NSA program have “crossed the line of proportionality.”

Even if one could conceivably justify the initial, inadvertent interception of baby pictures and love letters of innocent bystanders, continued storage in government databases is both troubling and dangerous. Who knows how that information will be used in the future?”

According to the Washington Post, the cache did include information with significant intelligence value. But one must consider the fact that it was buried in a mountain of useless data. It took The Post four months to go through all of it. That doesn’t give me a lot of confidence in the intelligence community’s ability to actually find and analyze the important information, then act on it. As Glenn Greenwald once said, “You don’t find a needle in a haystack by throwing more hay on top.”

The NSA gathered this data through Section 702 of the FISA amendments. It allows the NSA to utilize methods that used to require probable cause and a warrant. Evidence exists that the spy agency actually switches surveillance to section 702 programs once a warrant expires in order to take advantage of the more lax standards, instead of renewing the FISA warrant.

On a side-note, NSA officials repeatedly denied that Snowden could have possibly accessed the information he released to The Post. That’s a nice way of saying they lied about it.

Americans need to wake up to some undeniable facts.

  • The NSA spies on Americans without warrants
  • The NSA stores personal information including emails, texts and instant messages, belonging to Americans. It’s not just harmless “meta-data.”
  • The vast majority of this information has nothing to do with terrorism.
  • The sheer volume of information undoubtedly hinders actual intelligence investigations.
  • The NSA and other agencies operate with virtually no oversight or accountability.
  • NSA and government officials repeatedly lie to the American people about the breadth and scope of its spying

That leaves us with one very important question: what are we going to do about it?

It’s time for Americans to pull their heads out of the sand and take action. The surveillance state won’t just go away if we ignore it long enough. It will only become more powerful, more intrusive and more dangerous.

If you want to get involved with the solution, click HERE.

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