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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

National Security Agency about Personal Privacy

The National Security Agency of the United States has chosen a Joseph Heller approach to addressing the questions about how many people it had been spying upon.

A while ago civil libertarian Senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall wrote to the National Security Agency and asked how many people’s personal privacy had been violated due to new counter terrorism powers. However, the agency replied that it would really like to be able to tell the senators, but this would… violate personal privacy!

In other words, in true Joseph Heller style the National Security Agency cannot tell anyone about violations to personal privacy because it would violate the personal privacy of those whose privacy has been violated! Got it? At least, that’s what Charles McCullough said, the Inspector General of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the head of the sixteen American spy agencies. The media reports confirm McCullough claimed that a review of the cases of infringement would also infringe the privacy of American citizens.

Nevertheless, the senators didn’t ask about many details or statistics. For instance, Ron Wyden asked for a ballpark estimate of how many people had been monitored under the new counter terrorism law. After getting the negative reply, he was disappointed that the Inspectors General couldn’t provide the figure.

He explained that if no-one will estimate how many US citizens have had their communications collected under the new legislation, it will be more important that Congress shut that “backdoor searches” loophole in order to keep the government from searching for people’s phone calls and emails without a court warrant.

If you are still unaware, the changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in 2008 did relax the standards under which communications with people abroad that passed via the US could be gathered by the spy agency.

The National Security Agency didn’t actually need probable cause to intercept someone’s phone calls, text messages or emails in the country if one of the participants in the communications was “reasonably” believed to locate outside the United States.

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