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NSA's Domestic Spying Grows As The Agency Sweeps Up Data

For consumers to effectively protect their personal data, means knowing where your personal data is. Both companies and government agencies archive consumers' personal data. For consumers to judge the effectiveness of their government, requires knowledge of their government's data collection activities. The Wall Street Journal reported:

"Five years ago, Congress killed an experimental Pentagon anti-terrorism program meant to vacuum up electronic data about people in the U.S. to search for suspicious patterns... But the data-sifting effort didn't disappear. The National Security Agency, once confined to foreign surveillance, has been building essentially the same system. The central role the NSA has come to occupy in domestic intelligence gathering has never been publicly disclosed. But an inquiry reveals that its 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."

Name the Department of Homeland Security Privacy Pig An important point:

"Largely missing from the public discussion is the role of the highly secretive NSA in analyzing that data, collected through little-known arrangements that can blur the lines between domestic and foreign intelligence gathering. Supporters say the NSA is serving as a key bulwark against foreign terrorists and that it would be reckless to constrain the agency's mission. The NSA says it is scrupulously following all applicable laws and that it keeps Congress fully informed of its activities... the spy agency now monitors huge volumes of records of domestic emails and Internet searches..."

A cautionary note:

"A number of NSA employees have expressed concerns that the agency may be overstepping its authority by veering into domestic surveillance. And the constitutional question of whether the government can examine such a large array of information without violating an individual's reasonable expectation of privacy "has never really been resolved," said Suzanne Spaulding, a national-security lawyer who has worked for both parties on Capitol Hill. NSA officials say the agency's own investigations remain focused only on foreign threats, but it's increasingly difficult to distinguish between domestic and international communications..."

All of this rests on a legal foundation that:

"... relies largely on the government's interpretation of a 1979 Supreme Court ruling allowing records of phone calls -- but not actual conversations -- to be collected without a judge issuing a warrant. Multiple laws require a court order for so-called "transactional'" records of electronic communications, but the 2001 Patriot Act lowered the standard for such an order in some cases, and in others made records accessible using FBI administrative subpoenas called "national security letters." (Read the ruling.)

To learn more, you can read this analysis at DailyKos, which includes the ACLU's response to the Wall Street Journal article. As if all of this wasn't enough, last week we learned that at least three U.S. Senators' passport records were breached. If a U.S. Senator can't expect data privacy, what can citizens expect?

The question to ask yourself is: are you comfortable with your government's disclosures about its data collection activities? If you are uncomfortable, then ask the same of your elected officials. Oversight and transparency are critical.


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