Wednesday, March 12, 2008

NSA shifts to e-mail, Web, data-mining dragnet

As Mukasey/Rove/Bush/Wall Street celebrate the wiretapping success that snagged consumer rights hero and anti-Wall Street champion - Governor Spitzer - some ACTUAL disturbing revelations are coming out regarding the NSA.

In 2003, Congress voted to terminate funding for Total Information Awareness (TIA) - not to be confused with the numerous government agencies listed in Orwell's 1984. The TIA was a controversial data mining program set up by the Pentagon that "collected electronic data about people in the U.S. to search for suspicious patterns." The program continued in various forms by being spread across different intelligence agencies.

The Wall Street Journal reported the other day that the National Security Agency (NSA), "once confined to foreign surveillance, has been building essentially the same system." An inquiry by the paper reveals that the agency's "efforts have evolved to reach more broadly into data about people's communications, travel and finances in the U.S. than the domestic surveillance programs brought to light since the 2001 terrorist attacks." Two current officials also told the Wall Street Journal that "the NSA's current combination of programs now largely mirrors the former TIA project. But the NSA offers less privacy protection." "A number of NSA employees" expressed concerns "that the agency may be overstepping its authority by veering into domestic surveillance."

And if you've made the connection between this program, and the fight over FISA and telecom immunity, you are correct...they're very related. In fact, I wonder if this breaking news has played, or will play, an important role in the telecom immunity debate, as this MUST deeply concern the Democrats in the House, and perhaps is a key motivator in their recent "toughening" stance?

If this all doesn't get your attention, check out this comprehensive article on this "Big Brother gone berzerk" program by C-NET:

As more communications traffic travels through fiber links, and as e-mail and text messaging supplant phone calls, the spy agency that once intercepted telegrams is adapting yet again. Recent evidence suggests that the NSA has been focusing on widespread monitoring of e-mail messages and text messages, recording of Web browsing, and other forms of electronic data-mining, all done without court supervision. Taken together, those activities raise unique privacy and oversight concerns greater than those posed by large-scale monitoring of voice communications.

Documents released last week by a security consultant (PDF) indicate that an unnamed major wireless provider has opened its network to the U.S. government, allowing customers' e-mail, text messaging, and Web use to be monitored.


The Republicans' blanket of retroactive immunity would likely cover e-mail providers, search engines, Internet service providers, and instant-messaging services too...the NSA can, "without a judicial warrant," obtain the Subject line and other header information from e-mail messages, plus information about Web sites visited and queries to search engines. Phone records, credit card usage information, and airline passenger data are also reportedly vacuumed up by the NSA.


The Electronic Frontier Foundation's Kurt Opsahl posted a stinging critique of the data-dragnet's legality. Here are some excerpts from what Opsahl wrote, referring to the Journal article:

The infobox incorrectly asserts that the subject lines of email are not "content," and can be obtained without a warrant...But this is contradicted by the Department of Justice's own 2002 Searching and Seizing Computers and Obtaining Electronic Evidence in Criminal Investigations manual, which states that "the subject headers of e-mails are also contents."


The infobox asserts that the NSA can get cellphone location data without a warrant. "The information [obtained by the NSA] can give such transactional information as a cellphone's location..." The issue of obtaining cell phone location information has been contentious for some time, but the vast weight of judicial interpretation is that a probable cause warrant is required.

Perhaps the silver lining in all this - being that these kind of assaults on civil liberties are not totally unexpected anymore - is it will put the Bush Administration on the defensive, and will help give the Democrats the cover, and spines, they need to fight the "Protect America Act" ("American" meaning the telecos and the administration) and reject immunity for these corporate lawbreakers.

Click here to read the article in its entirety.

No comments: