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.