NSA is monitoring more American emails and messages without warrants than previously thought, according to report

APTOPIX NSA Phone Records

Yes it is the NSA again. It seems like we can never catch a break from them. According to New York Times, the National Security Agency (NSA) is searching and collecting emails and text messages of Americans who “mention information about foreigners under surveillance.” Take note this is simply mentioning a detail about the wanted foreigner by name, such as in a conversation with a close friend discussing current affairs — you don’t even have to know the person under surveillance or actually be contacting them. This is much broader surveillance than the agency had previously been know for — searching and collecting messages from those who are in direct contact with “foreigners in surveillance.”

Times wrote:

To conduct the surveillance, the NSA is temporarily copying and then sifting through the contents of what is apparently most e-mails and other text-based communications that cross the border. The senior intelligence official, who, like other former and current government officials, spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic, said the NSA makes a “clone of selected communication links” to gather the communications, but declined to specify details, like the volume of the data that passes through them.”

Emails and most text based messages are first scanned, then are sifted through and deleted if there is no matching information. According to the senior intelligence official, “the NSA makes a clone of selected communication links to gather information.” However, he did not specify details like how much volume of data goes through the NSA servers.

All this surveillance is made legal by the 2008 FISA Amendment Act, a law that allowed eavesdropping on “domestic soil without warrant” as long as the surveillance “target” is a foreigner… irregardless of whoever gets caught in the spying crossfire. However, take note the FISA Amendment Act does not include ability to monitor voice communications.

When the NSA server receives the data, they have software searches for the identifying keywords and “selectors”. If there are messages that match keywords, then they are stored for human inspection. According to the official, the keywords and selectors are very accurate to minimize the breach of privacy.

Meanwhile, Edward Snowden, the whistle blower who opened the can of worms calls NSA and PRISM, is in Russia where he has been granted temporary asylum. Whoever thought the day would come when someone fighting to protect the American constitution is hiding away in Russia.

[via New York Times, image via iPick]

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5 comments

  1. Darcy

    James is correct about the letter of the law, but not the intent, and to state that when all three branches of government agree on something it is legal isn’t correct. The real worry here is abuse of power. We are being bombarded with real examples of that abuse daily now, what will happen when people abusing their authority get more access to do so?

    An author I once met described a book he wanted to write, an in depth look at someone becoming sociopathic. His goal was to make every little step seem like a logical response to circumstance so that the reader would think “That seems reasonable.” What he wanted to do was build this to the point that when it went over the top people would think “That’s reasonable” then step back and say “Whoa! Where the hell did that come from!”

    Laws get passed through the same process. Arguments are presented in gradual steps and each one is reasonable. When a politician is unable to take a step back and say “Whoa! Where the hell did that come from!” at the end of it, they need to get out of politics. Combine that with the corruption, pork barrel politics and the old buddy system we have now, and you get the mess we are in.

    The famous quote by Alexis de Tocqueville, “In a democracy, people deserve the government they get” was more accurately stated by someone else as, “People do not always get the government they deserve, but they always get the government they accept.” Wish I could remember who said that, anyway it’s very true. The only way to keep government honest, and prevent abuses, is for the people to be involved. Another quote that I think applies here, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” – Edmund Burke Irish orator, philosopher, & politician (1729 – 1797).

  2. Mikerman

    [@James] James, I understand everything you’re saying, and I think it likely you are right.

    But as an owner of this country, what bothers me is, I just DON’T REALLY KNOW what my employees–the gov’t–is actually doing here. I realize that it can be difficult in the revelation of details–one does not want to give “the bad guys” a guidebook–but I also, as a citizen, need to know what is going on, to some degree, so that I can make intelligent decisions if I agree with that conduct and want it to continue. Also, as any good citizen, I need to know what is happening so that I can watch over it and make sure that it is in accord with the law. Unfortunately, details in this important area have not been forthcoming and only seem to dribble on out; as much as gov’t reps in this area might be saying, “Don’t worry, we’re handling it, trust us,” I think in this important area, I need to know more and to be involved.

  3. James

    First of all, when you have all three branches of the government actively engaged and supporting this, there is no threat whatsoever to “The Constitution.” This is the Constitution at work.

    Second, if you think that this sort of activity is a violation of the 4th amendment, then you don’t know your constitutional law. Pick up a textbook; read some case law; and know your Supreme Court history.

    Third, nobody knows what you have written in any email. This is about a computer sifting through your emails, finding a target word (in this case, a name), and then–still a computer–sifting deeper for more target words. If other stuff comes up that seems important, then a request for a warrant is obtained so that an actual agent can read the email–again, looking for actionable material related to terrorism, and nothing else whatsoever.

    There are billions of messages a day and only hundreds to review them for this task. None of them have time to care what you write if you have nothing to do with terrorism. You’re not as important as you like to think you are.