Senators Wyden & Udall Ask If The NSA Is So Confused About Its Own Capabilities, Why Do We Trust Them With All That Data?
from the because-reasons dept
Senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall have put forth another statement about the recently declassified documents about the NSA’s surveillance efforts. As you may remember, one of the points made by the NSA in its defense was that its surveillance systems were so complex that no one person actually understood them all. That leads to a rather obvious question… If the NSA can’t even keep track of how its systems work, how can we trust them to know that the system isn’t being abused (or that it’s accurately doing what the NSA claims):
“Documents declassified last week clearly show that court orders authorizing the NSA’s bulk collection of phone records were consistently violated by the NSA. These documents also show that the government repeatedly made serious misrepresentations to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court when seeking authorization to conduct this bulk collection. The intelligence community’s defense was that these violations were occurring because no one had a full grasp of how the bulk collection program actually worked.
“If the assertion that ineptitude and not malice was the cause of these ongoing violations is taken at face value, it is perfectly reasonable for Congress and the American people to question whether a program that no one fully understood was an effective defense of American security at all. The fact that this program was allowed to operate this way raises serious concerns about the potential for blind spots in the NSA’s surveillance programs. It also supports our position that bulk collection ought to be ended.
“The government’s misrepresentations inevitably led to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court being consistently misinformed as it made binding rulings on the meaning of U.S. surveillance law. This underscores our concern that intelligence agencies’ assessments and descriptions about particular collection programs — even significant ones — are not always accurate. It is up to Congress, the courts and the public to ask the tough questions and require intelligence officials to back their assertions up with actual evidence. It is not enough to simply defer to these officials’ conclusions without challenging them.”
TL;DR? If the NSA doesn’t understand its own capabilities, how can they insist that it’s used reasonably and judiciously?
There are, of course, two basic answers to this. The first, is that the NSA was lying about why it failed to properly inform the FISA Court as to its actions. The second is that the NSA is a complete disaster and it really has no clue about its own systems. The NSA would like people to believe the latter, even if most people seem to believe the former. What Wyden and Udall are making clear is that if the the latter is true, then it suggests the NSA needs much more oversight. I would imagine that if the former is true, there are reasons why the NSA needs more oversight as well. So, perhaps the much shorter version of all of this is that the NSA has made it clear it needs much more outside oversight.