I guess all the defenders of the NSA PRISM and phone-record surveillance programs will now try to tell us that this latest revelation, that the NSA listens in on our phone calls and monitors emails, text messages, and IM chats — all without a warrant — is the price we pay for preventing terrorist attacks.
Not only don’t they need a warrant, says the DoJ, but low-level analysts can make the decision to listen to our phone calls for any reason they want.
The National Security Agency has acknowledged in a new classified briefing that it does not need court authorization to listen to domestic phone calls.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat, disclosed this week that during a secret briefing to members of Congress, he was told that the contents of a phone call could be accessed “simply based on an analyst deciding that.”
If the NSA wants “to listen to the phone,” an analyst’s decision is sufficient, without any other legal authorization required, Nadler said he learned. “I was rather startled,” said Nadler, an attorney and congressman who serves on the House Judiciary committee.
Not only does this disclosure shed more light on how the NSA’s formidable eavesdropping apparatus works domestically, it also suggests the Justice Department has secretly interpreted federal surveillance law to permit thousands of low-ranking analysts to eavesdrop on phone calls.
Because the same legal standards that apply to phone calls also apply to e-mail messages, text messages, and instant messages, Nadler’s disclosure indicates the NSA analysts could also access the contents of Internet communications without going before a court and seeking approval.
The disclosure appears to confirm some of the allegations made by Edward Snowden, a former NSA infrastructure analyst who leaked classified documents to the Guardian. Snowden said in a video interview that, while not all NSA analysts had this ability, he could from Hawaii “wiretap anyone from you or your accountant to a federal judge to even the president.”
There are serious “constitutional problems” with this approach, said Kurt Opsahl, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation who has litigated warrantless wiretapping cases. “It epitomizes the problem of secret laws.”
The NSA yesterday declined to comment to CNET. A representative said Nadler was not immediately available. (This is unrelated to last week’s disclosure that the NSA is currently collecting records of the metadata of all domestic Verizon calls, but not the actual contents of the conversations.)
The NSA has between 500,000 and one million numbers on their target list — perhaps more. All electronic communications belonging to these people are recorded.
This isn’t “monitoring.” This isn’t “scanning.” This is eavesdropping — exactly what President Obama denied when he said “nobody is listening to your phone calls.” Oh, yes they are, Barry, and lying about it is about the most egregious breaking of trust with the American people that has occurred in your administration.