The NSA is watching you

USA Today reporting that the NSA keeps logs of all calls in the US. Not really a big surprise.

Now, recently you may have heard Alberto Gonzales explaining to Congress how the NSA does not perform any surveillance inside the US without legal warrants, etc. Which is true… if you accept a definition of “surveillance” analogous to Clinton’s definition of “sex.” This might be enough legal cavilling to make what he said not strictly perjury, (or rather, that would be an issue if the Senate Judiciary Committee hadn’t thoughtfully decided not to swear him in…) but I’d say it doesn’t pass the smell test: this was surveillance by any plain-English understanding of the word.

So there you have the difference between the Clinton and Bush administrations: one prevaricates about his sex life, the other about the erosion of Constitutional liberties.

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Published in: on May 11, 2006 at 10:50  Comments (10)  
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10 Comments

  1. You really need to read up more on the operation of the intelligence community.
    The NSA has been conducting these operations since its creation – its part of the charter of the NSA which has been blessed by Congress and every administration since.
    No, it’s not surveillance because the word has a very specific legal definition that these activities fall outside of.
    And while you’re reading up on the intelligence community, read up on the telecommunications industry as well.

  2. You really need to read up more on the operation of the intelligence community.
    The NSA has been conducting these operations since its creation – its part of the charter of the NSA which has been blessed by Congress and every administration since.
    No, it’s not surveillance because the word has a very specific legal definition that these activities fall outside of.
    And while you’re reading up on the intelligence community, read up on the telecommunications industry as well.

  3. Oh, I’m well aware that this has been standard operating procedure for a long time — thus the “not really a big surprise.” Although I would dispute that it’s specifically part of the NSA charter, since that just commits them to SIGINT of various sorts.
    But I disagree about the meaning of the word “surveillance.” I agree that what they are doing isn’t surveillance in the sense of the federal wiretapping law; but it is surveillance in the dictionary and common-use sense of the word. Which is why it seems like a rather Clintonian excuse to me; it’s not “sex” in the strictest sense of the word, but it certainly would be if you asked someone in the street.

  4. Oh, I’m well aware that this has been standard operating procedure for a long time — thus the “not really a big surprise.” Although I would dispute that it’s specifically part of the NSA charter, since that just commits them to SIGINT of various sorts.
    But I disagree about the meaning of the word “surveillance.” I agree that what they are doing isn’t surveillance in the sense of the federal wiretapping law; but it is surveillance in the dictionary and common-use sense of the word. Which is why it seems like a rather Clintonian excuse to me; it’s not “sex” in the strictest sense of the word, but it certainly would be if you asked someone in the street.

  5. When debating semantics, one has to accept the definition of the authorities in question.
    The government has defined “surveillance” to mean a certain thing for decades. There’s no fine line. What the NSA does in this instance clearly does not fall under that category. Legally, no surveillance is being conducted.
    We may not like what they’re doing, but it’s less than what the telecommunications industry and the commercial sector does on a daily basis in the course of their operations.

  6. When debating semantics, one has to accept the definition of the authorities in question.
    The government has defined “surveillance” to mean a certain thing for decades. There’s no fine line. What the NSA does in this instance clearly does not fall under that category. Legally, no surveillance is being conducted.
    We may not like what they’re doing, but it’s less than what the telecommunications industry and the commercial sector does on a daily basis in the course of their operations.

  7. Would you agree that the actions described are surveillance in the common-use sense of the word, but not in the legal sense of the word?
    Note that I’m not alleging that what the NSA did in this case was illegal: as you said, this operation clearly did not fall under any legal definition of eavesdropping or surveillance. I’m more concerned that it was a bad idea (because of erosion of the principles of the Fourth Amendment) and that it doesn’t pass the smell test. (Because it’s something they wouldn’t want to admit to in public, even if there were no security implications)

  8. Would you agree that the actions described are surveillance in the common-use sense of the word, but not in the legal sense of the word?
    Note that I’m not alleging that what the NSA did in this case was illegal: as you said, this operation clearly did not fall under any legal definition of eavesdropping or surveillance. I’m more concerned that it was a bad idea (because of erosion of the principles of the Fourth Amendment) and that it doesn’t pass the smell test. (Because it’s something they wouldn’t want to admit to in public, even if there were no security implications)

  9. A practical approach
    For those of you who want to keep the NSA out of your business:
    http://www.philzimmermann.com/EN/zfone/index.html
    I really wish phone companies and voip program makers would make this a standard feature. Add to that: with no backdoor.
    There are hardware boxes you can attach to regular phones that do this too. I know Mr. Zimmermann was involved with one of those a few years ago too but I’m not sure of their availability and much like video phones, you need them on both ends.
    -Damiaan

  10. A practical approach
    For those of you who want to keep the NSA out of your business:
    http://www.philzimmermann.com/EN/zfone/index.html
    I really wish phone companies and voip program makers would make this a standard feature. Add to that: with no backdoor.
    There are hardware boxes you can attach to regular phones that do this too. I know Mr. Zimmermann was involved with one of those a few years ago too but I’m not sure of their availability and much like video phones, you need them on both ends.
    -Damiaan


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