Sunday, July 06, 2014
If you store it they will access it
Barton Gellman has a blockbuster piece in today's Washington Post, perfect for 4th of July week-end:
Ordinary Internet users, American and non-American alike, far outnumber legally targeted foreigners in the communications intercepted by the National Security Agency from U.S. digital networks, according to a four-month investigation by The Washington Post.
This was the "debate" that Snowden hoped to spark: are the massive privacy violations and potential for grievous harm to innocent individuals worth the intelligence these programs provide. I've always thought that was way too abstract --- the vast majority of Americans would say yes, of course. Because as far as they know, their personal lives are not being scrutinized by the government and/or the government has no reason to use whatever information it is collecting against them. For today at least.
Nine of 10 account holders found in a large cache of intercepted conversations, which former NSA contractor Edward Snowden provided in full to The Post, were not the intended surveillance targets but were caught in a net the agency had cast for somebody else.
Many of them were Americans. Nearly half of the surveillance files, a strikingly high proportion, contained names, e-mail addresses or other details that the NSA marked as belonging to U.S. citizens or residents. NSA analysts masked, or “minimized,” more than 65,000 such references to protect Americans’ privacy, but The Post found nearly 900 additional e-mail addresses, unmasked in the files, that could be strongly linked to U.S. citizens or U.S.residents.
The surveillance files highlight a policy dilemma that has been aired only abstractly in public. There are discoveries of considerable intelligence value in the intercepted messages — and collateral harm to privacy on a scale that the Obama administration has not been willing to address.
Most of the people caught up in those programs are not the targets and would not lawfully qualify as such. “Incidental collection” of third-party communications is inevitable in many forms of surveillance, but in other contexts the U.S. government works harder to limit and discard irrelevant data. In criminal wiretaps, for example, the FBI is supposed to stop listening to a call if a suspect’s wife or child is using the phone.
That's so true. You just don't know what personal information about innocent citizens you're going to need until they do something you need it for. (Or maybe, you never know, you need their cooperation on something and having this sort of info make the "persuading" just a little bit easier...)Best to keep as much information stored about everyone as possible. After all, the government may need to target you for something someday and it would be a shame if they didn't have all of your communications stored in a nice digital file somewhere. Just in case.
There are many ways to be swept up incidentally in surveillance aimed at a valid foreign target. Some of those in the Snowden archive were monitored because they interacted directly with a target, but others had more-tenuous links.
If a target entered an online chat room, the NSA collected the words and identities of every person who posted there, regardless of subject, as well as every person who simply “lurked,” reading passively what other people wrote.
“1 target, 38 others on there,” one analyst wrote. She collected data on them all.
In other cases, the NSA designated as its target the Internet protocol, or IP, address of a computer server used by hundreds of people.
The NSA treats all content intercepted incidentally from third parties as permissible to retain, store, search and distribute to its government customers. Raj De, the agency’s general counsel, has testified that the NSA does not generally attempt to remove irrelevant personal content, because it is difficult for one analyst to know what might become relevant to another.
Oh, and also too. They lied. Again:
U.S. intelligence officials declined to confirm or deny in general terms the authenticity of the intercepted content provided by Snowden, but they made off-the-record requests to withhold specific details that they said would alert the targets of ongoing surveillance. Some officials, who declined to be quoted by name, described Snowden’s handling of the sensitive files as reckless.
I'm sure most people just assume that they aren't among the million or so people whom these documents indicate are under surveillance. It must be someone else.
In an interview, Snowden said “primary documents” offered the only path to a concrete debate about the costs and benefits of Section 702 surveillance. He did not favor public release of the full archive, he said, but he did not think a reporter could understand the programs “without being able to review some of that surveillance, both the justified and unjustified.”
“While people may disagree about where to draw the line on publication, I know that you and The Post have enough sense of civic duty to consult with the government to ensure that the reporting on and handling of this material causes no harm,” he said.
In Snowden’s view, the PRISM and Upstream programs have “crossed the line of proportionality.”
“Even if one could conceivably justify the initial, inadvertent interception of baby pictures and love letters of innocent bystanders,” he added, “their continued storage in government databases is both troubling and dangerous. Who knows how that information will be used in the future?”
For close to a year, NSA and other government officials have appeared to deny, in congressional testimony and public statements, that Snowden had any access to the material.
But what if it isn't?
My feeling has always been that the only way this would be seen as truly pernicious is if there was a political component to it --- that members of the government were using the information for their own purposes. We don't have the proof of that. But we can certainly see the potential:
At one level, the NSA shows scrupulous care in protecting the privacy of U.S. nationals and, by policy, those of its four closest intelligence allies — Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.
Apparently the presidents calls are being logged and recorded too. How nice for history.
More than 1,000 distinct “minimization” terms appear in the files, attempting to mask the identities of “possible,” “potential” and “probable” U.S. persons, along with the names of U.S. beverage companies, universities, fast-food chains and Web-mail hosts.
Some of them border on the absurd, using titles that could apply to only one man. A “minimized U.S. president-elect” begins to appear in the files in early 2009, and references to the current “minimized U.S. president” appear 1,227 times in the following four years.
In order to ensure that you are not among those under surveillance, you should probably avoid having any conversations like this. Ever. With anyone:
Even so, unmasked identities remain in the NSA’s files, and the agency’s policy is to hold on to “incidentally” collected U.S. content, even if it does not appear to contain foreign intelligence.
I would imagine that if you are a journalist you should probably assume they are collecting and analyzing every phone call you make. If that puerile exchange is worthy of collection, reporters speaking to sources certainly is.
In one exchange captured in the files, a young American asks a Pakistani friend in late 2009 what he thinks of the war in Afghanistan. The Pakistani replies that it is a religious struggle against 44 enemy states.
Startled, the American says “they, ah, they arent heavily participating . . . its like . . . in a football game, the other team is the enemy, not the other teams waterboy and cheerleaders.”
“No,” the Pakistani shoots back. “The ther teams water boy is also an enemy. it is law of our religion.”
“haha, sorry thats kind of funny,” the American replies.
Remember, "minimizing" just means they redact the information about your identity for the purposes of reporting. It doesn't mean they delete what you say. If they find they need to look at your communications at some point, it will be accessible.
Oh, and keep this in the back of your mind:
Stockman asks NSA for Lois Lerner metadata after IRS claims ‘glitch’ erased all incriminating emails
That should give you a clue about just how much respect some members of our government have for the idea that this is only to be used for "terrorist" surveillance. Certainly, one can see right there in living color the potential for political mischief. The potential for police agency mischief is even greater ...
Jun 13, 2014 Press Release
WASHINGTON – Congressman Steve Stockman Friday asked the National Security Agency to turn over all its metadata on the email accounts of former Internal Revenue Service Exempt Organizations division director Lois Lerner for the period between January 2009 and April 2011.
The request comes just hours after the IRS claimed it “lost” all of Lerner’s emails to or from Lerner and outside agencies or groups during that period, in which she allegedly coordinated with the White House, House Democrats and political groups to harass and deny tax-exempt status to groups critical of the President. The IRS blames a “computer glitch” for erasing the emails which could have implicated Agency employees in illegal activity.
“I have asked NSA Director Rogers to send me all metadata his agency has collected on Lois Lerner’s email accounts for the period which the House sought records,” said Stockman. “The metadata will establish who Lerner contacted and when, which helps investigators determine the extent of illegal activity by the IRS.”
“The claim incriminating communications were erased by a glitch conjures memories of Rose Mary Woods,” said Stockman. “Barack Obama has brought us Jimmy Carter’s economy and Richard Nixon’s excuses.”
The text of the letter follows:
June 13, 2014
Admiral Michael S. Rogers
Director, National Security Agency
Fort Meade, MD 20755
First, thank you for your 33 years of, and continued service to, our country.
Second, as you probably read, the Internal Revenue Service informed the House Ways and Means Committee today they claim to “lost” all emails from former Exempt Organizations division director Lois Lerner for the period between January 2009 and April 2011.
According to chairman Camp, “The IRS claims it cannot produce emails written only to or from Lerner and outside agencies or groups, such as the White House, Treasury, Department of Justice, FEC, or Democrat offices” due to a “computer glitch.”
I am writing to request the Agency produce all metadata it has collected on all of Ms. Lerner’s email accounts for the period between January 2009 and April 2011.
The data may be transmitted to our Communications Director at Donny@mail.house.gov.
Your prompt cooperation in this matter will be greatly appreciated and will help establish how IRS and other personnel violated rights protected by the First Amendment.
Member of Congress
If you store it, they will access it.
Update: Read the whole article to see just how rigorous the standards for "foreignness" are. I will bet that you have fallen into that definition many, many times. We all have. Read on ...
digby 7/06/2014 09:30:00 AM