Federal Government And NSA: Get Out Of Our Business

Image via Wikipedia

Those who have nothing to hide, hide nothing… so said no one who’s ever had the federal government so far up their ass it can accurately predict the color of their next shit. And that’s basically what the National Security Agency is now attempting. Oh, sure… the NSA prevents terrorism, and we’re all appreciative of the defense, but lately some of its actions might shock even George Orwell. Or has the US government finally completed its transformation into “Big Brother” as described in “1984?

Is it really OK for a government agency to filter personal data from nine US Internet firms’ servers? Hell, no! And even though National Intelligence director James Clapper responded to a June 7 Washington Post report, calling it “reprehensible,” inaccurate and not designed to target US citizens, we can all smell a rat when it farts.

The unauthorized disclosure of information about this important and entirely legal program is reprehensible and risks important protections for the security of Americans,” Clapper said in a statement. “I believe it is important for the American people to understand the limits of this targeted counter terrorism program and the principles that govern its use.

Clapper said he ordered information related to the “business records provision” of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act be declassified so citizens might have a better understanding of it. But he’s not kidding anyone. Obviously only information the feds want us to know has been released. Anything skeezy will likely forever remain under wraps.

Even so, the information that’s been revealed by the Post is disturbing. NSA captures information from the servers of Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube and Apple, and plans to begin accessing documents stored in Dropbox in the future. And according to the Post, federal agencies are “extracting audio, video, photographs, e-mails, documents and connection logs that enable analysts to track a person’s movements and contacts over time.

The Post reported the technology companies participate in the six-year-old surveillance program, known as Prism, knowingly. The tech firms, however, decline involvement, more or less.

We have never heard of PRISM,” Apple spokesman Steve Dowling said in a written statement. “We do not provide government agency with direct access to our servers, and any government agency requesting customer data must get an order.

Likewise, Google both denied participation Prism and feigned ignorance of the program.

Google “cares deeply about the security of our users’ data,” the search giant said in a statement. “We disclose user data to government in accordance with the law, and we review all such requests carefully. From time to time, people allege that we have created a government ‘back door’ in to our systems, but Google does not have a back door for the government to access private user data.

Facebook and Microsoft also released statements persisting they only release customer information upon being served with a court order. Meanwhile, both firms also stated that they comply with the law.

The Post report followed a June 6 account in the Guardian that revealed a secret court order requiring Verizon turn over details of all domestic and international calls for the past three months. The NSA required information including phone numbers, length of calls and other identifiers. And the order specifically requests metadata for only calls that originate in the United States, in contrast to NSA statements.

It is hereby ordered that [Verizon Business Network Services’] Custodian of Records shall produce to the National Security Agency… all call detail records or ‘telephony metadata’ created by Verizon for communications (i) between the United States and abroad; or (ii) wholly within the United States, including local telephone calls,” the Guardian’s copy of the order reads. “This Order does not require Verizon to include telephony metadata for communications wholly originating and terminating in foreign countries.

Supposedly to protect Americans from their overreaching government, the Justice Department is required under the Patriot Act to tally the number of classified wiretap orders. In 2012 there were just 1,789 wiretaps and about 200 records requests—far fewer than many would expect. But what the government doesn’t tell Americans is the orders don’t indicate records of a single individual were sought. In the Verizon case, for example, one order covers data for every phone call made by every customer in a three-month period.

Anyone who feels the surveillance won’t affect them because they have nothing to hide should absolutely still be appalled. Why? Because of something called the Fourth Amendment. The amendment specifically bans “general warrants.” And if you believe the government when it tells us the content of calls, emails and instant messages isn’t evaluated without just cause, I have an igloo in Mexico I’d certainly like to sell you.

In fact, Clapper nearly admitted that NSA has, in the past, obtained information illegally. But of course it was purely an accident.

According to NBC, in 2012 when Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) asked him if NSA ever collects data on millions or even hundreds of millions of Americans, Clapper replied, “Not wittingly. There are cases where they could, inadvertently perhaps collect-but not wittingly,” and it is possible the NSA, “on at least one occasion” collected information that “was unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment.

Still, President Barack Obama defended Prism’s necessity in the war on terror.

I came in with a healthy skepticism about these programs,” Obama said June 7. “My team evaluated them, we scrubbed them thoroughly, we actually expanded some of the oversight, increased some of the safeguards. But my assessment and my team’s assessment was that they help us prevent terrorist attacks. You can’t have 100 percent security and also then have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience. We’re going have to make some choices as a society.

Are the American people better off knowing about Prism and other government surveillance? One would think so, but unfortunately by revealing the surveillance to US citizens, the Post and the Guardian also tipped off our enemies. Within two days of the reports, an al-Qaida Web site warned its audience against discussing militant activities on the Internet in three articles entitled “America’s greatest and unprecedented scandal of spying on its own citizens with people in other countries.

Caution: Oh brothers, it is a great danger revealing PRISM, the greatest American spying project,” wrote one member.

A highly important caution for the Internet jihadis … American intelligence gets information from Facebook and Google,” wrote another.

And in tipping off al Qaida, the reports have almost guaranteed the feds will have to dig even further into our private lives in the future. According to the New York Daily News, former Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), who served on the House Intelligence Committee for a decade, said “the bad folks’ antennas go back up and they become more cautious for a period of time.

But we’ll just keep coming up with more sophisticated ways to dig into these data. It becomes a techies game, and we will try to come up with new tools to cut through the clutter,” he said.