Key Takeaway From NSA Scandal

Last night, Glenn Greenwald broke the news that for the first time in the Obama Administration there was definitive proof of the NSA's mass collection of "metadata" on American citizens.

Greenwald writes,

The order, a copy of which has been obtained by the Guardian, requires Verizon on an "ongoing, daily basis" to give the NSA information on all telephone calls in its systems, both within the US and between the US and other countries.

The document shows for the first time that under the Obama administration the communication records of millions of US citizens are being collected indiscriminately and in bulk – regardless of whether they are suspected of any wrongdoing.

The secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (Fisa) granted the order to the FBI on April 25, giving the government unlimited authority to obtain the data for a specified three-month period ending on July 19.

The order directs Verizon to "continue production on an ongoing daily basis thereafter for the duration of this order". It specifies that the records to be produced include "session identifying information", such as "originating and terminating number", the duration of each call, telephone calling card numbers, trunk identifiers, International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI) number, and "comprehensive communication routing information".

The document also specifies that such "metadata" is not limited to the aforementioned items. A 2005 court ruling judged that cell site location data – the nearest cell tower a phone was connected to – was also transactional data, and so could potentially fall under the scope of the order.

Those of you who were following Campaign for Liberty's efforts to repeal the so-called "Patriot" Act in 2011 won't be surprised to learn the order relied on Section 215, the business records provision, (one of two controversial sections reauthorized until 2015).

However, the administration isn't entirely incorrect when it says this policy is "supported by all three branches of government." And that's part of the problem.

When Congress reauthorized these "Patriot" Act provisions, despite a strong fight put up by Senator Paul and few others in the House and Senate, the Senate passed a four-year extension by a vote of 72-23 before the House rushed it through by a vote of 250-153.  It was later signed by an "auto-pen," as President Obama was in France and unable to physically sign them before the "Patriot" Act authority expired. (No word as to how they got around the constitutional requirement of having legislation "presented to the President" in Article I Section 7.)

This scandal also gives background to the claim made by an anonymous White House official who said allowing those provisions to lapse would "pose a serious threat to U.S. National Security."

“Today, there are significant, ongoing terrorism and counter-intelligence investigations where these tools are or may prove to be necessary. We cannot risk any lapse in these critical authorities, regardless of how brief that is. We are using, and we need, all of our collection authorities to investigate and prevent terrorist attacks. Taking away any of these tools, even temporarily, will impact our ability to identify and disrupt terrorist plots.”

"Tools" that allow the NSA to conduct blanket surveillance of American citizens, while actual threats like the "Underwear Bomber," whose father actually warned the CIA Station Chief in Nigeria that his son was radicalized in Yemen, go unnoticed.

The FISA Amendments Act, passed in 2008, gave retroactive legal authority to Bush's domestic surveillance program. When it was reauthorized until 2017 in the lame-duck session of the 112th Congress, legislators seemed naively unaware of what they were voting on.  The House had passed it by a vote of 301-118, while the Senate reauthorized it by a vote of 73-23.

Senator Feinstein, in a statement that might have been a breach of classified information, said, “As far as I know, this is the exact three-month renewal of what has been in place for the past seven years.” Occasionally members of the Senate Intelligence Committee forget they've been told things the rest of us "lowly citizens" aren't privy to.

Greenwald closes by quoting Frank Church, the Senator from Idaho who investigated US surveillance activities in the 1970s:

"The NSA's capability at any time could be turned around on the American people, and no American would have any privacy left, such is the capability to monitor everything: telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn't matter."

It's ironic that today is the 64th anniversary of Orwell's "1984." Last fall, Senator Paul shot a video asking, "Is 1984 now?"

There is no denying it any longer, the age of Big Brother is here, and now we have proof.

We have met the enemy of Americans' liberties, and they are our government.

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