Not that the US hasn’t been one for quite some time, but lifting the veil or if you prefer an Oz reference, peeking behind the curtain, has been difficult, because most of it has been kept a secret. Today the WSJ gives us a look at another “sliver” of the surveillance that apparently goes on routinely via secret orders:
The National Security Agency is obtaining a complete set of phone records from all Verizon U.S. customers under a secret court order, according to a published account and former officials.
The account provides fresh evidence that NSA’s far-reaching domestic surveillance effort has continued after Congress passed a law five years ago to institutionalize a post-9/11 warrantless surveillance program.
The revelation of the secret order appears to lift the veil on a broad NSA domestic collection program under way, which former government officials say represents just a sliver of the domestic data NSA is taking in and which includes all types of communications data, such as emails and records of Internet browsing. The data collection began after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, according to several former intelligence officials.
NSA is only one of many government agencies conducting this sort of surveillance. And of course, we now have drones approved for domestic use.
I’ve said this many times, but terrorism has been the excuse for an vast expansion of government intrusion the like of which we’ve never seen before.
While I may fear a terrorist attack, the chances of being involved in one are almost if not completely statistically improbable. The chance that I’ll be a subject of freedom stealing intrusion from government? When’s you next plane trip?
It is coming to the point that it is obvious that the terrorists have won. Why? Because they have provided government the excuse to intrude more and more into our lives and government is more than willing to use it. If this doesn’t bother you, you’re not paying attention:
Top U.S. intelligence officials gathered in the White House Situation Room in March to debate a controversial proposal. Counterterrorism officials wanted to create a government dragnet, sweeping up millions of records about U.S. citizens—even people suspected of no crime.
Not everyone was on board. “This is a sea change in the way that the government interacts with the general public,” Mary Ellen Callahan, chief privacy officer of the Department of Homeland Security, argued in the meeting, according to people familiar with the discussions.
A week later, the attorney general signed the changes into effect.
Of course the Attorney General signed the changes into effect. He’s as big a criminal as the rest of them.
What does this do? Well here, take a look:
The rules now allow the little-known National Counterterrorism Center to examine the government files of U.S. citizens for possible criminal behavior, even if there is no reason to suspect them. That is a departure from past practice, which barred the agency from storing information about ordinary Americans unless a person was a terror suspect or related to an investigation.
Now, NCTC can copy entire government databases—flight records, casino-employee lists, the names of Americans hosting foreign-exchange students and many others. The agency has new authority to keep data about innocent U.S. citizens for up to five years, and to analyze it for suspicious patterns of behavior. Previously, both were prohibited.
Your activities are now presumed to be “suspicious”, one assumes, just by existing and doing the things you’ve always done. Host a foreign exchange student? Go under surveillance. Fly anywhere the government arbitrarily decides is tied into terrorists (or not) it is surveillance for you (can the “no-fly” list be far behind?). Work in a casino, go onto a surveillance list.
And all of this by unaccountable bureaucrats who have unilaterally decided that your 4th Amendment rights mean zip. In fact, they claim that the 4th doesn’t apply here.
Congress specifically sought to prevent government agents from rifling through government files indiscriminately when it passed the Federal Privacy Act in 1974. The act prohibits government agencies from sharing data with each other for purposes that aren’t “compatible” with the reason the data were originally collected.
But the Federal Privacy Act allows agencies to exempt themselves from many requirements by placing notices in the Federal Register, the government’s daily publication of proposed rules. In practice, these privacy-act notices are rarely contested by government watchdogs or members of the public. “All you have to do is publish a notice in the Federal Register and you can do whatever you want,” says Robert Gellman, a privacy consultant who advises agencies on how to comply with the Privacy Act.
As a result, the National Counterterrorism Center program’s opponents within the administration—led by Ms. Callahan of Homeland Security—couldn’t argue that the program would violate the law. Instead, they were left to question whether the rules were good policy.
Under the new rules issued in March, the National Counterterrorism Center, known as NCTC, can obtain almost any database the government collects that it says is “reasonably believed” to contain “terrorism information.” The list could potentially include almost any government database, from financial forms submitted by people seeking federally backed mortgages to the health records of people who sought treatment at Veterans Administration hospitals.
So they just exempted themselves without any outcry, without any accountability, without any review. They just published they were “exempt” from following the law of the land or worrying about 4th Amendment rights.
Here’s the absolutely hilarious “promise” made by these criminals:
Counterterrorism officials say they will be circumspect with the data. “The guidelines provide rigorous oversight to protect the information that we have, for authorized and narrow purposes,” said Alexander Joel, Civil Liberties Protection Officer for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the parent agency for the National Counterterrorism Center.
What a load of crap. If you believe that you’ll believe anything government says. Human nature says they’ll push this to whatever limit they can manage until someone calls their hand.
And, as if that’s all not bad enough:
The changes also allow databases of U.S. civilian information to be given to foreign governments for analysis of their own. In effect, U.S. and foreign governments would be using the information to look for clues that people might commit future crimes.
So now our government is free to provide foreign governments with information about you, whether you like it or not.
This isn’t a new idea – here’s a little flashback from a time when people actually raised hell about stuff like this:
“If terrorist organizations are going to plan and execute attacks against the United States, their people must engage in transactions and they will leave signatures,” the program’s promoter, Admiral John Poindexter, said at the time. “We must be able to pick this signal out of the noise.”
Adm. Poindexter’s plans drew fire from across the political spectrum over the privacy implications of sorting through every single document available about U.S. citizens. Conservative columnist William Safire called the plan a “supersnoop’s dream.” Liberal columnist Molly Ivins suggested it could be akin to fascism. Congress eventually defunded the program.
Do you remember this? Do you remember how much hell was raised about this idea? However now, yeah, not such a big deal:
The National Counterterrorism Center’s ideas faced no similar public resistance. For one thing, the debate happened behind closed doors. In addition, unlike the Pentagon, the NCTC was created in 2004 specifically to use data to connect the dots in the fight against terrorism.
What a surprise.
I’m sorry, I see no reason for an unaccountable Matthew Olsen or his NCTC to know anything about me or have the ability to put a file together about me, keep that information for five years and, on his decision and his decision only, provide the information on me to foreign governments at his whim.
I remember the time the left went bonkers about the “Privacy Act”. Here’s something real to go bonkers on and what sound do we hear from the left (and the right, for that matter)?