Thursday, August 22, 2013

NSA Gathered Tens of Thousands of Americans’ E-mails

With each passing day we seem to discover more details on just how extensive domestic spying on American citizens has become - and how national politicians from Barack Obama on down have been less than honest about just how badly the privacy of citizens has been violated.  Whether the extent of the abuses is due to a run away National Security Agency or our elected officials knowingly allowing the abuses to take place, average citizens ought to be seriously disturbed.   It is particularly disturbing that government officials seemingly were deliberate lying to the court which supposedly protects Americans from domestic spying abuses.  If one thinks that they have any privacy in America, they need to think again.  The Washington Post looks at the latest revelations on the gathering of citizens' e-mails.  Here are excerpts:

For several years, the National Security Agency unlawfully gathered tens of thousands of e-mails and other electronic communications between Americans as part of a now-revised collection method, according to a 2011 secret court opinion.

The redacted 85-page opinion, which was declassified by U.S. intelligence officials on Wednesday, states that, based on NSA estimates, the spy agency may have been collecting as many as 56,000 “wholly domestic” communications each year.

In a strongly worded opinion, the chief judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court expressed consternation at what he saw as a pattern of misleading statements by the government and hinted that the NSA possibly violated a criminal law against spying on Americans. 

“For the first time, the government has now advised the court that the volume and nature of the information it has been collecting is fundamentally different from what the court had been led to believe,” John D. Bates, then the surveillance court’s chief judge, wrote in his Oct. 3, 2011, opinion.

“The court is troubled that the government’s revelations regarding NSA’s acquisition of Internet transactions mark the third instance in less than three years in which the government has disclosed a substantial misrepresentation regarding the scope of a major collection program,” Bates wrote in a scathing footnote.

[T]he NSA collects more than 250 million Internet communications each year, the opinion said. The vast majority — 91 percent — are obtained from Internet providers such as Google, Yahoo and AOL through a program code-named PRISM.

“By expanding its Section 702 acquisitions to include the acquisition of Internet transactions through its upstream collection, NSA has, as a practical matter, circumvented the spirit of [the law],” Bates wrote. “NSA’s knowing acquisition of tens of thousands of wholly domestic communications through its upstream collection is a cause of concern for the court.”

The newly released opinion also reflects Bates’s frustration with the court’s inability to independently verify the NSA’s assertions, a sentiment underscored in a recent statement made to The Post by the current chief judge, Reggie B. Walton.

Bates continued: “Contrary to the government’s repeated assurances, NSA had been routinely running queries of the metadata using querying terms that did not meet the required standard. . . . The Court concluded that this requirement had been ‘so frequently and systematically violated that it can fairly be said that this critical element of the overall . . . regime has never functioned effectively.’ ”

FISA Section 702, as written, is insufficient to adequately protect the civil liberties and privacy rights of law-abiding Americans and should be reformed.” 

Ironically, my son who can be a bit of a computer geek had told me several years ago that all of this was happening.  I did not believe him at the time.  Obviously, now I do.

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