The government has been passing around some "talking points" to politicians and the press trying to spin the NSA surveillance story. We've got the talking points about scooping up business records
(i.e., all data on all phone calls) and on the internet program known as PRISM
. Both are embedded below. Let's dig in on a few of the points, starting with the business records/FISA issue:
The news articles have been discussing what purports to be a classified, lawfully-authorized order that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA Court) issued under an Act of Congress – the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Under this Act, the FISA Court authorized a collection of business records. There is no secret program involved here – it is strictly authorized by a U.S. statute.
"There is no secret program here"? Bullshit. Why, then, have so many people, both in the Congress and the public been shocked at the extent to which the NSA is snarfing up data? This is a secret program, enabled by a secret interpretation
of the FISA Amendments Act, by the FISA Court, which the DOJ and the NSA insist the public is not allowed to know. Yes, it's a secret program. Saying otherwise is simply lying.
It authorizes only metadata collection, which includes barebones records – such as a telephone number or the length of a call.
"Barebones records" and "metadata" are terms being used to play down the extent of the collection of info, but it ignores multiple reports that note the amount of data actually collected -- including phone numbers, call times, call location, among other things -- is more than enough to identify who someone is and a variety of important characteristics about that person.
This legal tool, as enacted by Congress, has been critical in protecting America. It has been essential in thwarting at least one major terrorist attack to our country in the past few years.
"At least one" is a lot less than the "dozens" NSA boss Keith Alexander recently stated. But, so far the only "one" identified, involving an attempted NYC Subway bombing was shown not
to have needed this data collection program to uncover and stop. So, nope.
Despite what appears to be a broad scope in the FISA Court’s order, the Intelligence Community uses only a small fraction of a percent of the business records collected to pursue terrorism subjects.
This is meaningless. That's like saying, even though we search everyone's house illegally, we only actually arrest a small number of people. No one would allow such house searches under the 4th Amendment, so why is it okay with phone records?
All three branches – Congress, the Courts, and the Executive Branch – review and sign off on FISA collection authorities. Congress passed FISA, and the Intelligence Committees are regularly and fully briefed on how it is used.
Except many in Congress have made it clear they did not review this kind of program, or were led to believe that the NSA did not collect this kind of information. And those who are being briefed now say the program goes way beyond
what they were told. And, those who did know about it beforehand, tried to dig deeper
into the program, but were blocked. As for "the Courts" reviewing it, we're talking about the FISA Court which is a rubberstamp in black robes
, having approved every single request of it for the past three years. It last rejected a request back in 2009
, and that was only one out of 1320. In its entire history, since 1979, the court has rejected a grand total of 11 applications. 11. Out of 33,939 applications. That's 0.03%. Not 3%. 0.03% with not a single rejection in over three years. That's not careful review. That's a rubber stamp. As for the executive branch signing off on it, what do you expect? They're going to hold back their own ability to spy on people?
The FISA Court authorizes intelligence collection only after the Intelligence Community has proven its case, based on underlying facts and investigations.
Well, we already covered the rubber stamp issue above, but Section 215 of the Patriot Act requires that the government present a case that the data it is seeking "must be relevant to an authorized preliminary or full investigation to obtain foreign intelligence information not concerning a U.S. person or to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities." I'd love to see the argument that all
data is somehow relevant to the investigation. Of course, I can't see it, because it's secret.
This legal tool has been reauthorized only after ongoing 90-day renewal periods. That means that every 90 days, the Department of Justice and the FBI must prove to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that they have the facts and legal basis to renew this legal authority. It is not a rubber stamp.
Ha ha ha. So, we violate your privacy without any opposing view -- but we do it every 90 days for seven straight years.
FISA-authorized collections are subject to strict controls and procedures under oversight of the Department of Justice, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the FISA Court, to ensure that they comply with the Constitution and laws of the United States and appropriately protect privacy and civil liberties.
What kind of "strict controls and procedures" allow for the collection of every single record of every single phone call
, and then also make it accessible to the 29-year-old IT guy in Hawaii? Just wondering...
Moving on to the "NSA internet talking points."
Section 702 is a vital legal tool that Congress reauthorized in December 2012, as part of the FISA Amendments Act Reauthorization Act, after extensive hearings and debate. Under Section 702, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA Court) certifies foreign intelligence collection. There is no secret program involved – it is strictly authorized by a U.S. statute.
Again, "no secret program," merely a secret interpretation of the law, in a secret ruling by a secret court. What's everyone complaining about?
Section 702 cannot be used to target any U.S. person. Section 702 also cannot be used to target any person located in the United States, whether that person is an American or a foreigner.
Note the careful choice of words: it cannot be used to target
a person in the US. It can, however, be used to collect info on
a person in the US if they're not "the target" of the investigation. Fun with words!
The unauthorized disclosure of information about this critical legal tool puts our national security in grave danger, puts Americans at risk of terrorist and cyber attacks, and puts our military intelligence resources in danger of being revealed to our adversaries.
Right. So this is not a new program, it's no surprise, people shouldn't be concerned... and now that you know about it we're all going to die!
How does anyone take these jokers seriously?