Snowden: Restrictions on Getting Data 'Policy Based, not Technically Based'

Bridget Johnson covered the Snowden liveblog here for the Tatler where she has extended excerpts.

But this USA Today story on the event had one line that jumped out at me:


Snowden did not elaborate on when he would reveal more information, but said, “the reality is this: if an NSA, FBI, CIA, DIA, etc analyst has access to query raw SIGINT databases, they can enter and get results for anything they want. Phone number, email, user id, cell phone handset id (IMEI), and so on — it’s all the same.”

SIGINT refers to “Signals Intelligence,” or the collected communciations data.

He said the restrictions to getting such data is “policy based, not technically based, and can change at any time.”

He can’t be any clearer, can he? When the administration or senior management of our intelligence agencies assure us that this kind of private information is unavailable to the government without a FISA warrant, what they’re really saying is that they keep their fingers crossed that the thousands of analysts who have direct access to this data play by the rules. We are supposed to trust the NSA that they haven’t hired someone — or, more likely, a lot of someones — who thumb their nose at the idea of having to get a warrant to go snooping and, for one of a hundred reasons, access our personal information. Perhaps they don’t want to be bothered. Maybe because the FISA court has only turned down 11 requests for warrants out of 39,000 applications since 1979 they didn’t think it would be necessary.


To believe that no violations of our privacy was committed without a rock solid technical firewall between the agency and our information, is not credible. Snowden may, indeed, have been in a position to witness the routine violations by NSA analysts of our privacy rights. At least, that’s what he’s claiming.

He is becoming more credible all the time.


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