Snowden Rebuts Sen. Feinstein's Claims That The NSA's Metadata Collection Is 'Not Surveillance'

from the yeah,-i-know.-and-a-collection-is-not-a-collection.-got-it. dept

Ed Snowden has briefly stepped up to the mic to rebut Dianne Feinstein's claims that the NSA's bulk phone records collections are "not surveillance." While he didn't specifically name Feinstein, it's pretty clear who his comments are directed towards, what with the senator putting in overtime over the past few weeks defending the agency's cherished but useless Section 215 collections haystacks that are definitely not collections (according to the Intelligence Dictionary.)

"Today, no telephone in America makes a call without leaving a record with the NSA. Today, no Internet transaction enters or leaves America without passing through the NSA's hands," Snowden said in a statement Thursday.

"Our representatives in Congress tell us this is not surveillance. They're wrong."
Her op-ed for the USA Today stated the following:
The call-records program is not surveillance.
Why is it not surveillance? Feinstein claimed, in direct contradiction to someone who's seen most of the inner workings of the agency's programs, that because it doesn't sweep up communications or names, it isn't surveillance. Also, she pointed out that surveillance or not, it's legal. So there.

Maybe Feinstein considers the term "surveillance" to mean something closer to the old school interpretation -- shadowy figures in unmarked vans wearing headphones and peering through binoculars.

Of course, this kind of surveillance contained many elements completely eliminated by the combination of the PATRIOT Act, the FISA Amendments Act, and a very charitable reading of the Third Party Doctrine. You know, the sort of stuff those shadowy men used to utilize: warrants, targeted investigations, reasonable suspicion, a grudging working relationship with the Fourth Amendment…

That's all gone now. The courts have declared that sweeping up business records on millions of Americans is no more a violation of the Fourth Amendment than gathering metadata on a single person. The NSA has warped the definition of "surveillance" just as surely as they've warped the definition of "relevant." The wholesale, untargeted gathering of millions of "transactions" from internet and phone activity doesn't seem to resemble what anyone might historically think of as "surveillance," but it's surveillance nonetheless.

Sure, the NSA may not look at everything it gathers, but it has the capability to do so and it shows no interest in letting any of its dragnets be taken out of commission. The NSA's defenders downplay the agency's many intrusions by first playing the "legal" and "oversight" cards and, when those fail to impress, belittle their critics by trotting out condescending statements like, "The NSA isn't interested in Grandma's birthday phone call or the cat videos you email to your friends."

Well, no shit. We're hardly interested in that, either. We're not worried about the NSA looking through tons of inane interactions. We know it doesn't have the time or inclination to do so. We're more concerned it's looking at the stuff it finds interesting and amassing databases full of "suspicious" persons by relying on algorithms and keywords -- a fallible process that robs everything of context and turns slightly pointed hay into the needles it so desperately needs to justify its existence.

What makes this even more frightening is that the agency then hands this unfiltered, untargeted, massive collection of data off to other agencies, not only in the US but in other countries, subjecting innocent Americans' data to new algorithms, keywords and mentalities, increasing the possibility of false positives.

But what we're mainly concerned about is the fact that an agency that claims its doing this to combat terrorism can't seem to come up with much evidence that its programs are working. The NSA has deprived us of civil liberties while delivering next to nothing in terms of security. Americans have been sold out to a data-hungry beast, and even if it's not officially "surveillance," it's still completely unacceptable.

Filed Under: bulk collection, dianne feinstein, ed snowden, nsa, nsa surveillance, surveillance


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  1. icon
    stimoceiver (profile), 25 Oct 2013 @ 6:58pm

    Whether or not this obvious "surveillance" of us all really "IS" "surveillance" or not, theres one thing I'd like to know.

    Many who have been following these developments for the past decade will remember an informative document called "Interception Capabilities 2000". If you haven't seen it, its well worth reading if for no other reason than to provide some perspective on the technological development of COMINT surveillance systems over the time span of the last 13 years or more. It even has some screenshots of an NSA surveillance software of that era called "Trailmapper".

    The subtitle of this report was somewhat longer:

    "Report to the Director General for Research of the European Parliament (Scientific and Technical Options Assessment programme office) on the development of surveillance technology and risk of abuse of economic information."

    So, I'm curious, for all those better versed in the recent earth history of state level surveillance tech than I: What abuses of economic information were known to have occurred? I've read through the document once or twice and while it highlights the potential risk of abuse of economic intelligence by 3rd parties connected with the intel communities, I don't recall any explicit references or footnotes indicating to what extent such had already at that time happened.

    And I can't help but assume it must have happened at the time of the reports writing in order to earn so prominent a place in the title and subject matter of a report to the EU parliament.

    After reading "The Secret History of Signals Intelligence" and a few introductory documents on cryptography I see no reason to believe our telecom network wasn't equipped with the capability for COMINT surveillance since day one. Because if it has been going on since the implementation of these public networks (if not being an a priori justification for their creation in the first place) then perhaps a better issue for activists to concern themselves with would be elucidating and illuminating not only what the criterion currently are for acting on the intel thus gathered and to what degree private commercial information might be shared with competing businesses, but how (or whether) these criterion have evolved (or devolved) since their devising.

    q.v. Interception Capabilities 2000

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