Sunday, June 16, 2013

Yes, There Is No Communications Privacy, Virginia

Edward Snowden wanted a "conversation" about U.S. wiretapping programs and policies, and, boy, did he start one. In today's Washington Post, Barton Gellman, who shared the byline with Laura Poutras in the revealing articles in the Post based on leaked information from Snowden, writes an expansive article on the state of current government surveillance of our communications, and it doesn't look good, as in they have access to everything, all the time. The key graphs are disturbing:
The Post has learned that similar orders [to the Verizon order] have been renewed every three months for other large U.S. phone companies, including Bell South and AT&T, since May 24, 2006. On that day, the surveillance court made a fundamental shift in its approach to Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which permits the FBI to compel production of “business records” that are relevant to a particular terrorism investigation and to share those in some circumstances with the NSA. Henceforth, the court ruled, it would define the relevant business records as the entirety of a telephone company’s call database. [emphasis mine]
Got that? Before that ruling, the government would have to suspect a particular connection between two or more "communicators" and apply for just those "relevant" records. The FISA court chose to define the "relevant" records to be the entirely of all companies' records.

We've been had. It gets worse:
When the NSA aims for foreign targets whose communications cross U.S. infrastructure, it expects to sweep in some American content “incidentally” or “inadvertently,” which are terms of art in regulations governing the NSA. Contact chaining, because it extends to the contacts of contacts of targets, inevitably collects even more American data.
Current NSA director Keith B. Alexander and Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. have resolutely refused to offer an estimate of the number of Americans whose calls or e-mails have thus made their way into content databases such as ­NUCLEON.
What's NUCLEON? Well...:
The other two types of collection, which operate on a much smaller scale, are aimed at content. One of them intercepts telephone calls and routes the spoken words to a system called ­NUCLEON.
Okay, that's nice. Read the whole article. It combines important history for context and elaborates on the implications of this past week's revelations. Pretty chilling stuff.

Another article I found -- from CNET -- elaborates on information revealed by Rep. Jerry Nagler (D-NY). It's title tells it all: "NSA admits listening to U.S. phone calls without warrants." Key revelations:
The National Security Agency has acknowledged in a new classified briefing that it does not need court authorization to listen to domestic phone calls.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat, disclosed this week that during a secret briefing to members of Congress, he was told that the contents of a phone call could be accessed "simply based on an analyst deciding that."
If the NSA wants "to listen to the phone," an analyst's decision is sufficient, without any other legal authorization required, Nadler said he learned. "I was rather startled," said Nadler, an attorney and congressman who serves on the House Judiciary committee.
Not only does this disclosure shed more light on how the NSA's formidable eavesdropping apparatus works domestically, it also suggests the Justice Department has secretly interpreted federal surveillance law to permit thousands of low-ranking analysts to eavesdrop on phone calls.
Because the same legal standards that apply to phone calls also apply to e-mail messages, text messages, and instant messages, Nadler's disclosure indicates the NSA analysts could also access the contents of Internet communications without going before a court and seeking approval.
 Do you remember how skeptical reporters and commentators were when Edward Snowden said he could listen to anybody's communications -- even a president -- if he had their email address? I'm no longer skeptical. Snowden apparently was right.

This story, unlike Benghazi, the IRS, and other "scandals," keeps growing and growing. Stay tuned. Your government already is...

Update. I found this revealing video that shows Nadler being a little cagey with FBI Director Robert Mueller:

A pretty polite way of saying you just lied to me. A lot of that going around these days.

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