Warrantless surveillance skyrockets
October 2, 2012 3:17 AM   Subscribe

The Justice Department, after a legal battle to avoid having to admit it, recently released documents showing that the federal government’s use of warrantless “pen register” and “tap and trace” surveillance has multiplied over the past decade. (Hat tip to the ACLU). But the Justice Department is small potatoes. Every day, the NSA intercepts and stores 1.7 billion emails, phone calls, texts, and other electronic communications.

(previously, previouslier)

Do we really need more data, or do we need better data?
* Many security and intelligence agencies do the same work [as each other], creating redundancy and waste. For example, 51 federal organizations and military commands, operating in 15 U.S. cities, track the flow of money to and from terrorist networks.
* Analysts who make sense of documents and conversations obtained by foreign and domestic spying share their judgment by publishing 50,000 intelligence reports each year - a volume so large that many are routinely ignored.

These are not academic issues; lack of focus, not lack of resources, was at the heart of the Fort Hood shooting that left 13 dead, as well as the Christmas Day bomb attempt thwarted not by the thousands of analysts employed to find lone terrorists but by an alert airline passenger who saw smoke coming from his seatmate.

….improvements have been overtaken by volume at the ODNI, as the increased flow of intelligence data overwhelms the system's ability to analyze and use it. Every day, collection systems at the National Security Agency intercept and store 1.7 billion e-mails, phone calls and other types of communications. The NSA sorts a fraction of those into 70 separate databases. The same problem bedevils every other intelligence agency, none of which have enough analysts and translators for all this work.
Updates on domestic surveillance:

Legal challenges to this widespread domestic surveillance:
1. In August a federal appeals court ruled that the federal government may spy on Americans’ communications without warrants and without fear of being sued in the case of Al-Haramain Islamic V. Obama. This case is pretty much dead unless the court reconsiders or the Supreme Court agrees to hear it.
2. The Electronic Frontier Foundation's case Jewel v. NSA challenges the NSA's enormous domestic spying operation. It looked like a lost cause, but it's now up for a hearing on December 14, 2012.

The House of Representatives last month re-approved the FISA bill, and the bill is now ready to pass in the Senate as well.

See also: Spy drone usage increases domestically and globally. Last year saw the first-ever drone-assisted arrest of a US citizen domestically, as well as the first-ever drone-assisted assassination of a US citizen by the US government overseas. (Though I still withhold judgement on the morality of killing Awlaki that way, the legality is definitely questionable and sets a dangerous precedent).

Lastly, coming soon to a city near you: Gorgon Stare.

Note: I don't think any of this is cause for getting all paranoid. But it's important to be concerned that the US government, regardless of party, must stay within its bounds and respect the rule of law.
posted by Sleeper (1 comment total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: This needs to be reposted without the personal editorial remarks; please contact us if you have questions. -- taz

(BTW, since there's a ton of links up there maybe I should have explained that Gorgon Stare is a drone-mounted city-wide surveillance system being developed for deployment in Afghanistan. Latest information I can find is it's full of bugs, but I think it's plausible that these things or their blimp-mounted siblings might someday fly over US cities, given that drones have already been used domestically.)
posted by Sleeper at 3:34 AM on October 2, 2012

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