The Trump administration wants to make some of the National Security Agency’s vast spying powers permanent. That’s a dangerous proposition, and I’ll tell you why.
Since 9/11, Americans have been asked to sacrifice their freedoms on the altar of national security. We’ve had our phone calls monitored, our emails read, our movements tracked, and our transactions documented.
Every second of every day, the American people are being spied on by the U.S. government’s vast network of digital Peeping Toms, electronic eavesdroppers and robotic snoops.
These government snoops are constantly combing through and harvesting vast quantities of our communications.
They are conducting this mass surveillance without a warrant, thus violating the core principles of the Fourth Amendment which protects the privacy of all Americans.
“PRISM” and “Upstream,” two of the spying programs conducted under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, are set to expire at the end of this year.
Here’s why they should be allowed to expire.
“PRISM” lets the NSA access emails, video chats, instant messages, and other content sent via Facebook, Google, Apple, and others.
“Upstream” lets the NSA worm its way into the internet backbone — the cables and switches owned by private corporations like AT&T that make the internet into a global network — and scan traffic for the communications of tens of thousands of individuals labeled “targets.”
Ask the NSA why it’s carrying out this warrantless surveillance on American citizens, and you’ll get the same Orwellian answer the government has been trotting out since 9/11 to justify its assaults on our civil liberties: to keep America safe.
Yet warrantless mass surveillance by the government and its corporate cohorts hasn’t made America any safer. And it certainly isn’t helping to preserve our freedoms.
Frankly, America will never be safe as long as the U.S. government is allowed to shred the Constitution.
Now the government wants us to believe that we have nothing to fear from its mass spying program because they’re only looking to get the “bad” guys who are overseas.
Don’t believe it.
The government’s definition of a “bad” guy is extraordinarily broad, and it results in the warrantless surveillance of innocent, law-abiding Americans on a staggering scale.
Under Section 702, the government collects and analyzes over 250 million internet communications every year. There are estimates that at least half of these contain information about U.S. residents, many of whom have done nothing wrong.
The government claims its spying on Americans is simply “incidental,” as though it were an accident — but it fully intends to collect this information.
Indeed, this sensitive data is not destroyed after the NSA vacuums it up. Rather, the government has written its own internal rules — called “minimization” procedures — that allow spy agencies such as the NSA to retain Americans’ private communications for years.
Far from minimizing any invasion of privacy, the rules expressly allow government officials to read our emails and listen to our phone calls without a warrant — the very kinds of violations that the Fourth Amendment was written to prohibit.
Finally, once this information — collected illegally and without any probable cause — is ingested into NSA servers, other government agencies can often search through the databases to make criminal cases against Americans that have nothing to do with terrorism or anything national security-related. One Justice Department lawyer called the database the “FBI’s ‘Google.’”
In other words, the NSA, an unaccountable institution filled with unelected bureaucrats, operates a massive database that contains the intimate and personal communications of countless Americans.
Warrantless mass surveillance of American citizens is wrong, un-American, and unconstitutional.
It’s time to let Section 702 expire or reform the law to ensure that millions and millions of Americans are not being victimized by a government that no longer respects its constitutional limits.