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

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  1. identicon
    DCX2, 19 Jun 2012 @ 9:46am

    Re: If you know data, you know it makes sense

    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.

    This is why I've been thinking, Senators Wyden and Udall should perhaps change their question.

    As you may note just below your comment, I too think the NSA is alleging that collecting-but-not-reviewing is not spying. So the good Senators should find a way to say something along the lines of "how many communications have been collected?"

    But then there's the many-to-many mapping that results. We have to find a way to frame the question so we can refer to the amount of data collected without requiring them to analyze it.

    How many "communications"? How many phone calls? Emails?

    Instead of looking for a specific value, should we just ask for an order of magnitude? For instance, between 1,000 and 10,000; between 10,000 and 100,000; 100k and 1 million; etc.

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