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Mass Spying Keeps NSA from Doing Its Job

The first line of defense for NSA apologists always revolves around national security.

It’s a crappy defense.

Opponents of state action to disrupt NSA spying by cutting off material support and resources to the agency often argue that despite whatever problems the agency might have, it performs a vital mission, and serves to protect the U.S. from both terrorist plots and hostile nation-states.  They say “drastic” actions that might disrupt the NSA’s work could threaten national security.

But I’ve long argued the current NSA operation that sweeps up reams of data on virtually everybody in the world, including Americans, actually hinders its national security mission. Simply put, the NSA has so much data coming in, it can’t possibly comb through it all to find actual threats.

In an interview with a Dutch news agency NOS, Edward Snowden made the same point, saying that the recent terror attack in France demonstrates the failure of mass spying.

“The problem with mass surveillance is that you’re burying people under too much data,” he said.

In December 2013, the French government expanded its ability to listen in to and record phone calls, and obtain electronic data such as email or location information. According to National Journal reporter Dustin Volz,” the provision does not require judicial approval for spying on electronic communications for a wide array of purposes that include national security and terrorism.”

And yet two gunmen successfully planned and executed an attack on a satirical newspaper in Paris. As Snowden pointed out, the draconian surveillance did nothing to thwart the attack.

“And this is consistent with what we’ve seen in every country,” Snowden said. “When you look at the United States, the Patriot Act, the mass surveillance that’s been debated and criticized since 2013, the White House did two independent investigations into its effectiveness and found that despite monitoring the phone calls for everyone in the United States every time they pick up the phone, it hadn’t stopped a single attack.”

The Boston Marathon bombing provides a prime example of surveillance failure. Snowden said he was at the NSA the day of the explosion and had a conversation with a coworker.

“I said to him, ‘You know, I’m willing to bet almost anything that we knew who these people were, that we had something on them,’ and later on we found out that was the case,” he said.

When it comes to national defense, our first priority should always focus on protecting and defending core American principles, including the right to privacy and the right to remain free from overreaching government searches. The NSA clearly poses a threat to the Fourth Amendment and those basic values. Based on that fact alone, we should take strong action to stop the spy agency from violating our rights.

But beyond that, the way the NSA operates actually hinders its own stated mission. It simply cannot pick through all of the information and identify actual threats. Those who truly care about protecting the country from terrorism and foreign threats should also want to see the agency reformed.

We know that reform will never come from Washington D.C. In the 40 years since Sen. Frank Church warned that the surveillance state in America provides the potential for “total tyranny,” Congress has done nothing to rein it in, and has in fact expanded its powers.

We need a new strategy, and OffNow provides it. Use state action to box the NSA in and force reform – or shut it down.

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