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Why news that the NSA is listening to our phone conversations isn’t news at all

The latest Edward Snowden disclosures this week show that the NSA vacuumed up far more data on far more Americans than many previously thought. In fact 9 out of 10 of people whose accounts were caught up in the data dragnet were not targets of any investigation. Now we’ll wait for the reactions to roll in from U.S. tech companies that are trying to paint themselves as worthy stewards of customer information.

Industry execs ranging from Cisco(s csco) CEO John Chambers, Microsoft(s msft) General Counsel Brad Smith and HP(s hpq) EVP Bill Veghte have all said that U.S. government data collection has put tech vendors behind the eight-ball as they try to sell technology — from networking hardware to cloud computing. Google(s goog), Facebook(s fb) and other companies are pressuring the government to be more transparent — or let them be more transparent — about what customer data intelligence agencies ask for.

But let’s face it: People who are surprised by the latest Snowden disclosures should not be. Previous NSA whistleblowers already told the world that the NSA has been collecting their email and phone data for a quite some time.

Two years ago, William Binney, Thomas Drake, and Kirk Wiebe said post-9/11  U.S. intelligence agency eavesdropping would also use tools developed under the Obama Administration’s Big Data initiative to stockpile people’s conversations via email or phone.  Binney and Drake testified this week for the German Bundestag about U.S. “mass data collection.” This is not an idle inquiry in Germany — Snowden said that the U.S. even listened into phone conversations of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

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8 Responses to “Why news that the NSA is listening to our phone conversations isn’t news at all”

  1. Geo840209

    I’m not worried about the US Govt having my data. I worry more about large corporations storing and selling my data. Like Google for instance. Google does not need a warrant. They can and do what ever they want with it.

  2. Ralph Haygood

    As Bruce Schneier remarked, “Note that this is data that the NSA has repeatedly assured us that Snowden did not have access to.” ( And given Snowden had access to it, I bet a lot of other people did and do too. It would be surprising if none of them took or take advantage of it for purposes that are, let’s just say, outside the lawful mission of the NSA. The potential for blackmail and extortion is prodigious.

  3. txpatriot

    Nobody is listening to your phone calls. But it sure makes for a click-worthy headline.

    “Innocent U.S. persons need not worry about the government listening to their phone conversations or reading their emails except to the extent that they are communicating with suspected criminals or agents of foreign powers.”

    “The government cannot listen to telephone conversations, without probable cause about one of the callers or about the telephone.”

    • that quote you mention leaves lots of wiggle room to me — given that the latest disclosures show that 9/10 of those being caught up in surveillance were not targets of an investigation.

  4. not really spied on cuz darrow

    Great article, Barb. Yes, nothing to see here. WaPo didn’t even need to mention it, because you’ve got it covered! Great job! We shouldn’t be alarmed or surprised! /sarc off/
    This is the last time I read a link from or “Barb Darrow.”

  5. james

    “Snowden” didn’t allege. The information he released made it clear that the U.S. government eavesdropped on Chancellor Merkel. Big distinction, no?