People who don’t like the idea of Google photographing their homes — and sniffing their wifi— will really hate this: The National Security Agency has been compiling huge information profiles on U.S. citizens, collecting and parsing their email and cell phone conversations, according to three former NSA officials.
Instead of government investigators figuring out which potential terrorists to investigate, the NSA technology will enable the automatic collection, search, and analysis of cell phone conversations and email of everyone. The tools then flag which people to watch, according to the former NSA hands.
William Binney, Thomas Drake, and Kirk Wiebe appeared Monday night on Current TV’s Viewpoint to discuss the NSA program with host Eliot Spitzer, the former New York State Attorney General. What was new to me — news of the eavesdropping program started breaking in 2005 — was their contention that the effort, which started after 9/11, will use tools developed under the Obama Administration’s Big Data initiative to increase the scope of government’s view into our lives. The technology will automate the process of sorting through all that data to determine — without human intervention — who is a threat.
They allege that the government is building a dossier on every citizen from that data — which will be stored in the secret Bluffdale, Utah data center. Software can then be run against that data to construct timelines about an individual’s personal life and a map of their social and business connections. Bluffdale, Binney said, will be able to store 100 years worth of the worlds’ electronic communication. “They’re accumulating [data] against everyone,” he told Spitzer. The website Technically Personal ran a good report on the show.
For the record, Binney, Drake, and Wiebe were investigated as possible leaks when the New York Times started breaking the news of massive government snooping on citizens back in 2005, and are now providing evidence for an Electronic Freedom Foundation lawsuit against the NSA.
There’s more unsettling news on this government spying front in Adam Liptak’s New York Times story about court-approved electronic surveillance. Liptak cites the concerns of Houston Judge Stephen W. Smith about the secretive nature of this information-gathering effort. Update: (Late last week, an NSA official acknowledged in a letter to a U.S. congressman, that the U.S. intelligence agencies had violated citizens’ Fourth Amendment rights at least once.)
“Courts do things in public,” Smith told Liptak. “That’s the way we maintain our legitimacy. As citizens, we need to know how law enforcement is using this power.”
But in an article Smith wrote for The Harvard Law & Policy Review, he said that court orders relating to surveillance might as well be “written in invisible ink.”
At least in those situations, there is a court order. However, it looks like when it comes to the government collecting data on us, no court order is necessary at all.
Check out the Viewpoint video: