So Much Warrantless Surveillance, Feds Can’t Keep Track

The National Security Agency (NSA) conducts warrantless surveillance of millions of people around the world and very little of it has anything to do with stopping terrorism.

Not that this is any sort of revelation to those who pay attention to the contraction of constitutional liberty, but recent reports from mainstream news outlets are highlighting not only the vacuuming up of metadata in violation of the Fourth Amendment, but the use of Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act to justify untold spying operations carried out under cover of this federal statute.

Some light is being shed on these activities lately with the release this week of the report published by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB). The Guardian reports that the information revealed in this report “gives Americans a fairly detailed look unclassified at how the NSA spies through its notorious Prism program – and how it snoops ‘upstream’ (a euphemism for the agency’s direct access to entire internet streams at telecoms like AT&T). The board issued a scathing report on the Patriot Act surveillance months ago, but oddly they went the opposite route this time around.”

In other words, the board recommends no substantive changes to the surveillance status quo, prompting a critical response from the Electronic Frontier Foundations (EFF). EFF writes:

The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) issued a legally flawed and factually incomplete report late Tuesday that endorses Section 702 surveillance. Hiding behind the “complexity” of the technology, it gives short shrift to the very serious privacy concerns that the surveillance has rightly raised for millions of Americans. The board also deferred considering whether the surveillance infringed the privacy of many millions more foreigners abroad.

The board skips over the essential privacy problem with the 702 “upstream” program: that the government has access to or is acquiring nearly all communications that travel over the Internet. The board focuses only on the government’s methods for searching and filtering out unwanted information. This ignores the fact that the government is collecting and searching through the content of millions of emails, social networking posts, and other Internet communications, steps that occur before the PCLOB analysis starts.

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