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
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Jun 2012 @ 2:29pm

    Re: NSA Exempt from most US laws anyways

    I'm not sure if it was the NSA (I think it was possibly all the agencies under the DHS), but they can also submit secret evidence during trials in court.

    Secret evidence means the defendant and his lawyer don't get to see it or argue against it. I don't remember whether the judge can see the secret evidence himself.
    It can take the form of "We have complete proof that the accused shot the victim in the face. We can't show it to you because National Security, but trust us, it's 100% proof".

    And of course let's not forget Habeas Corpus has been repealed for people accused of terrorism, and the US government can also assassinate US citizen accused of terrorism (and has done so twice - a terror suspect as well as his teenage son who was "collateral damage").
    Spying on people is pretty light in comparison.

    I'm curious to see how long Americans will tolerate this. It's interesting to see as an outsider.

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