Congress Plays See-No-Evil, Pretend-There's-No-Evil, Let-The-Evil-Continue With NSA Domestic Spying

from the wtf dept

We’re still completely perplexed at how anyone in Congress could recognize that the NSA has refused to tell Congress how often it’s violated the privacy of Americans without a warrant under the FISA Amendments Act (FAA) — and then still vote to renew it. What kind of “oversight” is that? As Julian Sanchez recently wrote, it’s no oversight at all. As he notes, the law requires the NSA to “prevent” the spying on folks when both parties in communication are in the US — but here, the NSA is admitting that it has no mechanism to actually do that. Either (a) it’s lying or (b) it’s admitting that it cannot do what the law requires.

If we care about the spirit as well as the letter of that constraint being respected, it ought to be a little disturbing that the NSA has admitted it doesn’t have any systematic mechanism for identifying communications with U.S. endpoints. Similar considerations apply to the “minimization procedures” which are supposed to limit the retention and dissemination of information about U.S. persons: How meaningfully can these be applied if there’s no systematic effort to detect when a U.S. person is party to a communication?

Normally, this should be the point at which Congress steps in and says “no more” to the NSA. Instead, it shuns those who even ask the basic questions — and as in the case of Rep. Dan Lungren, pretends that as long as no one proves to them that the NSA is abusing its power, there’s simply no reason to demand evidence. That’s not oversight. That’s willful ignorance.

And… given that they’re choosing to ignore their own oversight obligations over the NSA’s spying on Americans, it should come as no surprise that the House Intelligence Committee unanimously voted to extend the FAA for five more years. Why not? It’s not like Congress is actually going to make sure that the NSA is playing by the rules. The NSA apparently just needs to say that it would be too much work to do what the law requires and Congress says, “here, have a gift of five more years to spy on Americans against the specifics of the law.” And, once again, as Sanchez points out, there are plenty of ways that the NSA could at least estimate how many Americans they’re spying on.

But why would it do that? As Sanchez also points out, the NSA seems to redact anything even remotely embarrassing from its reports… including data on how often it failed to follow the law:

More generally, these reports contain a good deal of redacted statistical information that there is simply no plausible excuse for keeping secret. A table of “statistical data relating to compliance incidents,” for example, is included—but entirely blacked out. Are we to believe that the national security of the United States would be imperiled if the public knew the number of times the NSA had difficulty following the law? The reviewers conclude that the “number of compliance incidents remains small, particularly when compared with the total amount of activity”—but is there any legitimate reason for barring the public from knowing what counts as a “small” number, or just how massive the “total amount of activity” truly is?

How do folks in Congress who vote for this kind of thing defend such actions? They can’t say that it’s to protect Americans, when they refuse to even seek to get the data on whether or not Americans are being illegally spied upon.

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Comments on “Congress Plays See-No-Evil, Pretend-There's-No-Evil, Let-The-Evil-Continue With NSA Domestic Spying”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Do they think...

I wonder if the people in D.C. stop to consider they are being spied on as well?

In a town where leverage can be used to make a politician bend to will of someone else, how can they not realize they are prime targets for spying.

Once the people doing the spying get enough dirt on their masters, the masters will lose interest in controlling those that need controlling most.

Perhaps it is too late for them to think.

Anonymous Coward of Esteemed Trolling (profile) says:

surprised : level NOT

Congress are paid to do what they are told.
The spying contractors paying them, tell them what to say.

————–defense industry ( just lobbying )————–

Lobbying politicians : 2008 -> today.
$1,437,258,824 in lobbying politicians.
That’s 1400 millionaires worth in under 14 years.

$133,208,307 was spent last year alone.


Now that is a DROP of lobbying in the “Ocean of Buying Politics”

“still completely perplexed at how anyone in Congress” ..bla..bla.. whatever ?

Bought and paid for… Bunch of puppets

Anonymous Coward says:

Willful Ignorance = Civil Disobedience

“That’s willful ignorance.”

“When talking about what he claimed to be laws.”

Somehow Talpin’s comments need to be turned to show that congress really isn’t passing ‘laws’ just what they ‘call laws’ and that their willful ignorance of the laws is no better than musicians ‘civil disobedience’ for not respecting the laws the industry purchased over the last 3 decades….

Obviously some more money needs to change hands, and some more words need to be recorded on those little bits of dead trees… so that the ones collecting the money can go back to collecting the money and not have to worry about all this ‘reality’ stuff that the rest of us have to live in….

Wally (profile) says:

Just a thought to put out there

Mike, you are forgetting one thing. Everyone is monitored. It’s been like that since 2001. The NSA isn’t prone to leaking information about your personal habits or your credit card numbers or you social security number to companies or anyone without a warrant nor the public. Nobody in the NSA could care less about your personal life. They monitor EVERYONE and all at the same time. So much data goes through that humans cannot take it in all at onc. Key phrases or words are picked up in their computers. A very well programmed parser picks up on key voice tones and phrases therein to determine and if it’s sufficient for human review. If it is determined not worth the threat, they delete it.

Now look at this for a moment. Try to consider how technologically adept most of Congress is. They aren’t. They are also asking for an exacting number out of technology they hardly understand. They are never satisfied with ballpark figures. The reason the NSA refuses to give up those numbers are because it would take ages to explain to an unaware Congress how they did it.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Just a thought to put out there

They monitor EVERYONE and all at the same time.

Exactly, and that’s what needs to stop.

The reason the NSA refuses to give up those numbers are because it would take ages to explain to an unaware Congress how they did it.

I doubt that. I think it’s more likely that the reason they refuse to let congress know what they’re doing is because congress may well be forced to stop them from doing it.

The underlying aspects of this are not hard to understand, even for congress. The NSA is spying on everybody, US citizens or not. Easy to understand.

Julian Sanchez says:

Re: Just a thought to put out there

“If it is determined not worth the threat, they delete it.”

This is actually not the case; acquired materials are stored indefinitely?in part because new intelligence may generate new search parameters. (As in: They discover al-Qaeda is using “wedding” as a codeword for “bombing,” and now a lot of conversations marked “innocent” before need to be reparsed with new parameters.)

Anonymous Coward says:

When you read this sort of stuff, is there any wonder why so many different nations and different people feel the way they do about the US?

Not but last week these same bunch of monkeys were all clamoring about the US might lose control of ICANN if the UN had it way. Suddenly it was privacy and the right to communicate were the by-lines. Today it sounds a lot like we want to be like our big brother China.

It’s a sign of the times that shows Washington is corrupt to it’s core.

Anonymous Coward says:

How do folks in Congress who vote for this kind of thing defend such actions?


Then even the doubtful congressmen go along with it, because they’re more afraid of attack ads from their political rivals than they are of the consequences of passing bad laws.

Androgynous Cowherd says:

Why does Congress willingly look the other way on this issue?

Simple. It’s the NSA. The NSA knows about each one’s mistress, or gay lover, or that kickback they received in ’04. The NSA has recordings of Rep. X’s rant laced with racist epithets in that phone call that time and Sen. Y’s off-color remark about the young gymnasts in the 2000 Summer Games. The NSA can link a bunch of anonymous political rants and screeds in YouTube comments on popular videos to the politicians that paid for them. They know every legislator’s HIV test results. And so on.

Go against the NSA, and the NSA exposes your dirty laundry, and in November you’re out of a job. Maybe even under investigation, depending on whether it’s just dirty laundry or an out-and-out skeleton in your closet.

jlaprise (profile) says:

Explaining the NSA's predicament

I’m pretty sure legally they can’t because if they did they _would_ violate the law. As I understand it, the NSA gathers email (without looking at the content) and then conducts statistical tests on the legally unprotected metadata seeking to find suspiscious patterns of behaviour/network characteristics. It then takes those findings to the FISA court which issues warrants to allow them to look at the content of those emails. Citizenship is not reliably ascertained from metadata but from content. Therefore the NSA literally doesn’t know how many Americans’ emails it has collected and to ascertain that number it would have to violate individual privacy rights by viewing the content without a warrant.

PT says:

What everybody overlooks ... the influence of the NSA’s vendors and contractors. Who makes the equipment the NSA uses to tap the public networks? Hint: there are two main companies, and they’re not American-owned.

There is one thing in the US that can never be criticized, and especially not have its interests voted against, without the direst consequences. Nobody wants to go there. Best not even to mention it, really.

Teame zazzu (user link) says:


TZ has been aggressively fighting to stop Wide Area Persistent Surveillance (WAPS) or Wide Are Motion Imagery (WAMI) from being used for domestic surveillance in the USA on platforms such as the Blue Devil and other drones. Recently, many of the Universities and private contractors involved in the development of ARGUS and the Gorgon Stare have gone public to reveal the Gigapixel camera and the fact that it is commercially available (for bird-watching? ;). Readers can now browse a WAMI data set and practice stalking civilians at

Even more dangerous for civil liberties are the PerSEAS (DARPA program) and PerMIATE software (Kitware, inc.) that make all vehicles and pedestrians movements automatically searchable via converting all movement into “tracklets” or chronographs that generate comprehensive geo-tagged location data as well as 24/7 drone coverage. This software can even track pedestrians in them WAMI data (

Now even CORPORATIONS will have the power to 24/7 stalk citizens as DRAGNET AUTOMATIC COMPUTER TRACKING can be applied to entire cities! PIXIA Inc. has just announced the COPSS program and released its HIPER STARE demo for COMMERCIAL and LAW ENFORCEMENT use. If the idea of local police having this capability is frightening, imagine now that Corporations like the News of the World and Rupert Murdock with able access to this data and abusing it for political influence.


Commercially Operated Persistent Surveillance Solution (COPSS). COPSS provides customers a commercial turnkey solution to Wide Area Motion Imagery (WAMI) collection, processing and dissemination. A low-cost daily pricing model provides a rapid access, end-to-end commercial solution for public and private sector customers such as law enforcement, border patrol, federal emergency management officials and private companies. (

The general public seems completely unaware that this capability exists or that DARPA military tech is now available for hire by anyone who wants to spy on entire cities or individuals without a warrant and for profit. This technology is the equivalent of having a private investigator follow you around with a video camera and document your every move!! It is a gross violation of privacy and an existential threat to a liberal democracy! PLEASE help raise awareness about this dangerous development. Thank you for all your efforts.

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