NSA-To-English Dictionary: I Don't Think These Words Mean What You Think They Do

from the if-you-can-redefine-the-language dept

For the last few weeks I’d been meaning to write up a “dictionary” of how the NSA translates certain words, completely different from the way any other English speaker does, in order to argue that what it does with its surveillance programs is “legal” under the law. I hadn’t gotten around to it because every time I started, it seemed like there was more breaking news. Thankfully Jameel Jaffer and Brett Max Kaufman from the ACLU beat me to it, and put together a fantastic NSA lexicon, which highlights how the NSA has simply changed the meaning of many basic English words in order to argue that their efforts are, in fact, legal and above board. You can and should read the full and detailed explanations that Jaffer and Kaufman have put together for each word, but I’m going to take their same list and simplify it down a little. In bold is the word, and after it is what the NSA thinks it means.

  • Surveillance: When we actually access full content of your calls and emails, but not when we access all the data about who you talk to, where you are and what you do.
  • Collect: When we run a search on data we collected er… “stored for safe keeping.”
  • Relevant: Everything. It might become relevant in the future, thus it’s relevant today.
  • Targeted: As long as we’re collecting the info for an investigation that involves a “target” then any info is “targeted” even if that info has nothing to do with the “target.”
  • Incidental: Everything that we collect… er… store that may become “relevant” at some point but isn’t now even though it’s “targeted.” In short: everything.
  • Inadvertent: Stuff we did on purpose on a massive scale that looks bad when exposed publicly.
  • Minimize: A term we use to pretend that we delete information on Americans, but which has many exceptions, including if you encrypted your communications or if we have a sneaking suspicion that you’re 51% foreign based on a hunch.
  • No: When said to Congress in response to questions about whether we collect data on millions of Americans, this means “fuck you.”

I would imagine there are a few more words that will need to be added at some point.

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Comments on “NSA-To-English Dictionary: I Don't Think These Words Mean What You Think They Do”

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32 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Follow the leader

Isn’t this just following in the foot steps of the U.S. Supreme Court? Remember Obamacare, where USSC redefined the word “taxation” from the centuries established meaning of “giving money to the government” to “giving money to anyone you are told to give it to, by the government”. So why can’t the NSA or anyone else with a lot of guns/bombs/drones do the same?

RyanNerd (profile) says:

This is fun. Here are a few more:

Least Untruthful Answer: Being econmical with the truth.
FISA Court: Oversight.
Patriot Act: Our justification and authority to store all relevant data that protects you from terrorists and the boogyman.
Mark Udall (D-Colo) and/or Ron Wyden (D-Ore): Assholes that simply do not understand the need for our programs.
GCHQ: See, other democratic countries do what we do. What?s the big deal?
Legal: Whatever we decide would look like we are doing to prevent terrorism, child abuse and warts.
Senate Intelligence Committee: This is the committee that we give the least untruthful answers to when they ask about our programs.
Edward Snowden: Satan.

Jan Bilek (profile) says:

This is totalitarianism

This seems really important to me and not at all funny. I grew up in a totalitarian regime and this kind of re-defining common language was one of the most powerful tools the regime could use to retain power and keep people in constant fear. For example the crime of ‘disruption of public order’ could be used to put basically anybody to jail because the term could be twisted to fit any behaviour that the regime did not like – for example when you criticised some official or communist party member or complained about something publicly.

Actually I believe that the ability of the government or any other group of people to redefine common language and inability of people to force government to use their version of language means that the power distribution in society is seriously skewed and therefore this is a strong sign of failing democracy. It’s really scary to observe that in the US

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