For the last few weeks I'd been meaning to write up a "dictionary" of how the NSA translates certain words, completely different from the way any other English speaker does, in order to argue that what it does with its surveillance programs is "legal" under the law. I hadn't gotten around to it because every time I started, it seemed like there was more breaking news. Thankfully Jameel Jaffer and Brett Max Kaufman from the ACLU beat me to it, and put together a fantastic NSA lexicon
, which highlights how the NSA has simply changed the meaning
of many basic English words in order to argue that their efforts are, in fact, legal and above board. You can and should read the full and detailed explanations that Jaffer and Kaufman have put together for each word, but I'm going to take their same list and simplify it down a little. In bold is the word, and after it is what the NSA thinks it means.
- Surveillance: When we actually access full content of your calls and emails, but not when we access all the data about who you talk to, where you are and what you do.
- Collect: When we run a search on data we
collected er... "stored for safe keeping."
- Relevant: Everything. It might become relevant in the future, thus it's relevant today.
- Targeted: As long as we're collecting the info for an investigation that involves a "target" then any info is "targeted" even if that info has nothing to do with the "target."
- Incidental: Everything that we collect... er... store that may become "relevant" at some point but isn't now even though it's "targeted." In short: everything.
- Inadvertent: Stuff we did on purpose on a massive scale that looks bad when exposed publicly.
- Minimize: A term we use to pretend that we delete information on Americans, but which has many exceptions, including if you encrypted your communications or if we have a sneaking suspicion that you're 51% foreign based on a hunch.
- No: When said to Congress in response to questions about whether we collect data on millions of Americans, this means "fuck you."
I would imagine there are a few more words that will need to be added at some point.