NSA: Figuring Out How Many US Citizens We Illegally Spied On Would Violate Their Privacy

from the wtf dept

For quite some time now, we've been reporting on Senators Wyden and Udall's repeated attempts to get the government to explain how many American citizens the NSA spied on under the FISA Amendments Act (which is supposed to be used to spy on foreigners, but appears to have been used much more broadly). It's quite clear that Wyden and Udall, in their roles on the Senate Intelligence Committee, believe there is some information that the public needs to know about, but which is not public. So they keep asking the same basic question over and over again. As we noted last week, since most of the rest of Congress does not have this information, and yet is expected to vote on the renewal of the FISA Amendments Act, something is seriously wrong.

What's never made sense is why the feds simply refuse to admit how many Americans they've spied on under the law. In the past, the Director of National Intelligence has basically told Wyden and Udall that he wouldn't answer because he didn't want to. But the latest answer really takes the insanity to stunning new levels. As initially revealed at Wired, the NSA has refused to answer claiming that, not only would it be too much work to figure it out, but that figuring it out would violate the privacy of Americans.

Yes, I'm going to repeat that, because it's insane. The NSA claims that figuring out how many Americans it spied on would violate their privacy. Here's the specific language from the letter:
The NSA IG provided a classified response on 6 June 2012. I defer to his conclusion that obtaining such an estimate was beyond the capacity of his office and dedicating sufficient additional resources would likely impede the NSA's mission. He further stated that his office and NSA leadership agreed that an IG review of the sort suggested would itself violate the privacy of U.S. persons..
At this point, you have to just wonder if the NSA is flat out mocking Wyden and Udall and basically taunting them to make it clear that the NSA doesn't believe anyone has oversight powers concerning the agency. And, of course, there is the other explanation: that the NSA has spied on more or less everyone who owns a mobile phone (which has been suggested by some reports).

Either way, it certainly sounds like the NSA really doesn't care what the law actually says, so long as it gets to keep spying on people.

Filed Under: data surveillance, fisa amendments act, marc udall, nsa, ron wyden, spying

Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread

  1. icon
    ChronoFish (profile), 19 Jun 2012 @ 9:28am

    If you know data, you know it makes sense

    While it seems outrages on the face of it, if you give it some thought and you can quite easily see why he may be right.

    I don't know if this is the way it happens... but it makes sense to me:

    If you have algorithms that basically triggers on word patterns over massive amount of streaming data, that streaming data is still "anonymous" until it triggers. Once the trigger happens, then the call is analyzed further and the details (who, who to, what, when, where, voice recognition of caller, voice recognition of receiver, etc) can be databased.

    This way you're only tracking calls that matter to you, or at the very least eliminating mundane family chatter that you don't want to waste resources on. If 90% of the stream is ignored, then even though the calls have been "listened in on", it's filtered out - and the NSA doesn't have to waste its resources (which are finite) - and more to the point, what is filtered out is unknown (and mostly the NSA doesn't care about this filtered out "crap").

    What you're asking the NSA to do when you want to know how many American's are spyed on, is for the NSA to go back to the stream and re-run it, this time cataloging EVERYTHING. Because the only way to get a count of callers is to know how many distinct callers there are in your stream.

    Now you're forcing the NSA to actually database what hadn't been databased before. This not only provides you the number of American's spyed on, but it also has the undesired effect of creating records and tracking US Citizens, there-by violating their privacy.

    Because it's not a simple matter of categorizing by phone number (more than one person uses a phone, one person uses multiple phones) there is no simple way to come up with the answer without analyzing what was filtered out.


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter

Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Techdirt Gear
Shop Now: Copying Is Not Theft
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads


Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.