Have you noticed that not once has an NSA revelation led people to say, “Oh, that isn’t as bad as I thought?”
In fact, every leaked document proves the spy agency more invasive, more expansive and more insidious than we realized. And what we’ve seen likely represents only the tip of the iceberg.
Last weekend, the Washington Post detonated the latest NSA bombshell, once again leaving Americans thinking, “Wow, it’s even worse than we imagined.”
After analyzing tens of thousands of files and communications obtained through Edward Snowden, the Post concluded that as many as nine out of 10 Internet users caught up in the spy dragnet were not the intended targets of surveillance. Not only that, but documents revealed that large amounts of data not relevant to any investigation was stored on NSA computers, even after it was deemed unimportant.
According to the Post story, nearly half of the files contained names, accounts and email addresses belonging to Americans.
There were indications that some of the information gathered was used in anti-terror activities and led to the capture of terror suspects, but the vast majority was not.
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.
The NSA did “minimize” (NSA parlance for hide) over 65,000 identifiers belonging to Americans, but some 900 pieces of information escaped the censor’s mouse click. And the Post found that the criteria for determining if a surveillance target was actually foreign was exceptionally loose. Simply typing an email in a foreign language was adequate evidence to deem a person “foreign” for the purpose of spying.
The documents also revealed a continuing pattern of government lies. Officials have insisted Snowden did not have access to the information he gave to the paper. It also vastly understated the number of people targeted in its PRISM and Upstream programs
If Snowden’s sample is representative, the population under scrutiny in the PRISM and Upstream programs is far larger than the government has suggested. In a June 26 “transparency report,” the Office of the Director of National Intelligence disclosed that 89,138 people were targets of last year’s collection under FISA Section 702. At the 9-to-1 ratio of incidental collection in Snowden’s sample, the office’s figure would correspond to nearly 900,000 accounts, targeted or not, under surveillance.
Snowden said the programs “crossed the line of proportionality.”
“Even if one could conceivably justify the initial, inadvertent interception of baby pictures and love letters of innocent bystanders,” he added, “their continued storage in government databases is both troubling and dangerous. Who knows how that information will be used in the future?”
Perhaps the most damning tidbit was the revelation that NSA spies use the more lenient standards of PRISM and Upstream programs to continue spying on targets even after the FISA court refused to extend warrants beyond the initial 90 days.
“These selectors were previously under FISA warrant but the warrants have expired,” one analyst writes, requesting that surveillance resume under the looser standards of Section 702. The request was granted.
We cannot count on the federal government to untangle its own web of lies. Congressional action to date has proved feckless. Federal courts generally rubber-stamp expansive federal powers. The president seems perfectly content to remain in full possession of his surveillance powers.
We need to find new ways to attack the beast.
The OffNow campaign focuses on state and local action to hinder the surveillance-state. By denying cooperation and resources to the NSA and other agencies violating basic privacy rights, we can hinder its operation and ultimately grind it to a halt. State and local action also serves as a megaphone, trumpeting a powerful message to the political class in Washington D.C.
Please get involved. It’s your privacy, after all.