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Thursday, April 16, 2009
By Steven L. Taylor

Via the NYT: N.S.A.’s Intercepts Exceed Limits Set by Congress

The National Security Agency intercepted private e-mail messages and phone calls of Americans in recent months on a scale that went beyond the broad legal limits established by Congress last year, government officials said in recent interviews.

Several intelligence officials, as well as lawyers briefed about the matter, said the N.S.A. had been engaged in “overcollection” of domestic communications of Americans. They described the practice as significant and systemic, although one official said it was believed to have been unintentional.

If people want something to worry about in terms of the expansion of governmental power, the issue isn’t bank bailouts or loans to GM, as those will pass, it is stuff like this which has the tendency to grow:

Intelligence officials say they are still examining the scope of the N.S.A. practices, and Congressional investigators say they hope to determine if any violations of Americans’ privacy occurred. It is not clear to what extent the agency may have actively listened in on conversations or read e-mail messages of Americans without proper court authority, rather than simply obtained access to them.

It is amazing, by the way, that a lot of folks will get up in arms over the suggestion that the federal government is concerned about right-wing hate groups seem not to care about the NSA listening to the phone calls and reading the e-mails of innocent American citizens. No big, that, I guess.

After all, the feds are tapped into the telecommunications grid-no way that could go awry:

the issue appears focused in part on technical problems in the N.S.A.’s ability at times to distinguish between communications inside the United States and those overseas as it uses its access to American telecommunications companies’ fiber-optic lines and its own spy satellites to intercept millions of calls and e-mail messages.

What’s a little “overcollection” of private communications after all?

The only good news is that there does appear to be some actual oversight of these programs, which is a step in the right direction.

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3 Responses to “Meanwhile, Back to Serious Problems with Governmental Power”

  1. Wiretaps Run Amok Says:

    [...] that said, I do agree with Steven Taylor — who has been much more exorcised about this issue over the years than I have — that [...]

  2. Max Lybbert Says:

    I supported the NSA wiretapping program in 2005 because we were told it was impossible to accidentally get purely domestic traffic. However, from the Times article:

    Officials would not discuss details of the overcollection problem because it involves classified intelligence-gathering techniques. But the issue appears focused in part on technical problems in the N.S.A.’s ability at times to distinguish between communications inside the United States and those overseas as it uses its access to American telecommunications companies’ fiber-optic lines and its own spy satellites to intercept millions of calls and e-mail messages.

    It seems odd that the NSA was able to distinguish between purely domestic communication in 2005 but not 2008/2009. Unless they outright lied in 2005.

    So, for the record:

    * US military units in Iraq and Afghanistan eavesdrop on radio communications of enemy units without a warrant: this should be OK
    * US military units in Iraq and Afghanistan eavesdrop of cell phone, email, or other communications without a warrant: this should be OK
    * US military units outside of the US, Iraq or Afghanistan eavesdrop on radio, email, cell phone or other communications without a warrant: I don’t think this should be OK generally, but I do believe it is legal under US law ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hainan_Island_incident )
    * CIA, NSA or some other agency (A) eavesdrops on communications either (1) between a foreign country and the US or (2) between foreign countries, (B) without a warrant, (C) as part of war efforts in Iraq or Afghanistan: should be OK as long as the military would be able to do the same thing; I don’t see any real difference between having the military collect data and having others collect the same data for the military
    * Military, CIA, NSA or some other agency eavesdrops on purely domestic communication that is arguably part of the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan without a warrant: I believe this should be OK (did Lincoln need warrants to spy on Confederate troop movements in Union territory?)
    * Military, CIA, NSA or some other agency eavesdrops on purely domestic communication that is not arguably part of the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan without a warrant: NOT OK

  3. Hume's Ghost Says:

    “It is amazing, by the way, that a lot of folks will get up in arms over the suggestion that the federal government is concerned about right-wing hate groups seem not to care about the NSA listening to the phone calls and reading the e-mails of innocent American citizens.”

    I’ve got something more amazing than that.

    http://dailydoubt.blogspot.com/2009/04/deranged-case-of-michael-savage.html


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