George Orwell was an optimist

George Orwell, who wrote 1984 is lauded by many as a prophet. We don’t share that view, we just think he was a good science fiction writer – on the order of Jules Verne – who also happened to be an optimist. Either that or he just couldn’t comprehend the future nature of technology.

The subject of this report is clearly NSA monitoring outside the US and that conforms to US law. While this narrow program topic is clearly legal, there are two issues that we want to look at, first, is collecting information on US citizens in these particular sweeps legal and what are they doing with it.

The National Security Agency is gathering nearly 5 billion records a day on the whereabouts of cellphones around the world, according to top-secret documents and interviews with U.S. intelligence officials, enabling the agency to track the movements of individuals — and map their relationships — in ways that would have been previously unimaginable.


The NSA does not target Americans’ location data by design, but the agency acquires a substantial amount of information on the whereabouts of domestic cellphones “incidentally,” a legal term that connotes a foreseeable but not deliberate result.

The program is designed to track foreign intelligence targets, it’s a national security program that basically builds a database of individuals who are consistently in the vicinity of a specific target and to do that the NSA collects vast amounts of intelligence and uses very powerful analytical tools looking for known associates.

Your cell phone, like all cell phones, has a built in feature that broadcasts your location. You know that neat app that lets you find yourself on Google Maps or the GPS that you use to make sure you’re getting the fastest route from point A to point B? That app uses the same technology that the NSA uses to find you. You can’t shut it off.

You can encrypt your emails, not that it will do any good, but you can’t stop your phone from telling the world exactly where you are and that’s where the privacy debate starts.

An intelligence lawyer, speaking with his agency’s permission, said location data are obtained by methods “tuned to be looking outside the United States,” a formulation he repeated three times. When U.S. cellphone data are collected, he said, the data are not covered by the Fourth Amendment, which protects Americans against unreasonable searches and seizures.

So, in theory, if you’re outside the US borders the NSA knows you’re there and is – not “may be” – tracking you. Legally.

Now then, for the second part of the equation. The NSA insists that it is not track cell phones in the US and is not targeting US citizens. In fact, under the 4th Amendment, the NSA has no legal right to track you or listen in on your phone conversations or read your email without a duly executed warrant.

We have two problems with this. The first problem is that the NSA goes to the FISA court for their warrants. The FISA court is a Star Chamber, it’s inner workings are top secret and their warrants are never made public. The court is also a rubber stamp for those who go there seeking warrants.

Since 1979 when the court was established, agencies have presented the court with 33,949 warrant applications. The court has rejected exactly 11 through 2012. With the exception of Mrs. Curmudgeon (who is definitely not a curmudgeon, except by marriage) nobody is right that often. You would have to be willing to suspend all belief in reality to believe that the FISA court is anything but a minor inconvenience for government agencies looking for permission to check you out. It’s the equivalent of your four year old asking your five year old for permission to raid the cookie jar.

What we come down to is credibility and trust in government officials. I’ll leave you with this; let us know what you think. Who do you trust?

[US Senator Ron] Wyden had asked [NSA Director James] Clapper to clarify a statement by NSA Director Keith Alexander, who had denied in a talk at the Defcon hacker conference that the NSA collected “dossiers” on every American. “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?” Wyden asked.

“No sir,” responded Clapper at the time. “Not wittingly.”

It became clear, thanks to the Snowden leaks, that Clapper was, well, lying. He corrected the record by saying that he misunderstood the question.

…my response was clearly erroneous–for which I apologize. While my staff acknowledged the error to Senator Wyden’s staff soon after the hearing, I can now correct it because the existence of the metadata collection program has been declassified.

If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan. Period.

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