Stop Letting NSA's Defenders Lie; There Have Been Many Significant Abuses
from the don't-let-them-get-away-with-it dept
We’ve been hearing regularly from the NSA’s biggest defenders — including former NSA boss Michael Hayden, current head of the House Intelligence Committee Rep. Mike Rogers and President Obama — that despite all of the revelations about the NSA, there hasn’t been any evidence of abuses. We’ve discussed over and over and over again why that’s clearly untrue. Over at the Guardian, Trevor Timm has done an excellent job laying out in detail how President Obama and others are simply lying when they say there’s been no evidence of abuses by the NSA. He details example after example of abuses that have come to light. Here’s just one which shows not just abuses, but a pattern of regular abuse:
For years, as new data came into the NSA’s database containing virtually every phone call record in the United States, analysts would search over 17,000 phone numbers in it every day. It turns out only about 1,800 of those numbers – 11% – met the legal requirement that the NSA have “reasonable articulable suspicion” that the number was involved in terrorism.
What were the other 89% of the numbers being searched for? We’re not exactly sure. But we do know that five years after the metadata program was brought under a legal framework, the Fisa court concluded it had been “so frequently and systematically violated that it can fairly be said that this critical element of the overall … regime has never functioned effectively”.
Part of the issue, of course, is that the NSA’s defenders, including the President, seem to be trying to redefine the word “abuse” just as they’ve tried to redefine lots of other common English words concerning their surveillance efforts.
One reason might be that, like many other words, the NSA has a different definition of “abuse” than most people. After LOVEINT was brought up to Director of National Intelligence general counsel Robert Litt on a conference call with reporters, he replied:
I’m using abuse in a slightly more limited term. I’m not talking about the LOVEINT kind of thing, but people using surveillance for political purposes or to spy on Americans more generally or anything like that, as opposed to individual people screwing up.
Apparently to qualify as “abuse”, the surveillance has to be on a massive scale, wilful, in bad faith, hidden from the Fisa court, and it has to about political views. Spying on loved ones or unauthorized spying on criminal behavior does not count.
Even worse, as Timm points out (and as we’ve discussed in the past), the LOVEINT disclosures revealed that many of those very willful abuses were only “discovered” years later when they were self-reported, meaning that there’s a very good chance that there are many more abuses that were never discovered or reported.
But, of course, there’s an even larger issue. Abusing the programs (no matter how you define that) presupposes the programs themselves are legitimate. That’s highly questionable.
With all that said, it’s unclear why we’re quibbling over whether or not the government truly abused the data it has. The programs themselves are an abuse. A primary reason the founding fathers declared independence from the British was in protest of “general warrants” – the idea that the police could seize everything in a given neighborhood, only to go through it afterwards and find the criminal.
The Fourth Amendment requires particularized, individual court orders, and as long as the NSA is collecting such a vast database on every innocent person in the United States, and then searching it at their own discretion, they are abusing our constitution.
As Timm says, we don’t allow police to search our homes or listen to phone calls without individual warrants and then say it’s okay so long as they “don’t abuse” what they discover. We say that those searches themselves are an abuse and unconstitutional. The same should be true of the NSA’s efforts. They’re all an abuse. An abuse of the Constitution and basic rights.