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. identicon
    Amy, 3 Nov 2013 @ 8:01am

    Metadata

    There has been exhaustive references to the collection of metadata in reference to the recent NSA controversies without sufficient understanding of what metadata actually is as it pertains specifically to NSA domestic collection of said material. The rudimentary definition of metadata is data about data. One must understand that the data collected en masse and provided to gov't agencies from data service providers is extremely limited. The NSA does not have access to identifying information, nor content of data transmissions, unlike your service provider. The information available to the gov't without warrants or FISA court order is limited to an ID number which is not connected to a name or account and the very basic info associated with a data transaction such as time and location. There aren't people nor keyword software programs mining this information. The metadata is accessed by or for law enforcement (for domestic concerns) after a warrant or federal injunction has been issued by the court. Once the warrant is issued, depending on the parameters of the warrant a name or account information will be provided by the data plan supplier and surveillance and information collection begins at this time. If the NSA or any other government agency were mining the information in a way which is suggested by Mr. Snowden one would expect a plethora of domestic arrests and detentions based on people's Internet and telephone use; this simply isn't happening. The government does not have access to a fifth of the information individuals willingly allow their service providers to access and share with their corporate partners. Food for thought.

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