The NSA’s Spying On Americans: Not As “Inadvertent” As It Claims

Another week, another trove of documents detailing the inner secrets of the NSA’s massive spying program. Recent revelations have finally provided a look at the procedures that the NSA uses to target and retain communications under the FISA Amendments Act (FAA). As my colleague Brett Max Kaufman wrote even before this latest batch of news broke, officials have been using the word “target” in very misleading ways to repeatedly reassure the American public that the law only applies to foreigners abroad, and does not permit the NSA to listen in on Americans’ phone calls or read their emails.

We now know just how misleading those assurances have been. The procedures show that the NSA has carved out several enormous loopholes in the law’s “targeting” requirements.

The FAA was passed in 2008 to facilitate the mass acquisition of international communications. Under this authority, the NSA claims only to intercept American communications “inadvertently,” but this is a clever fiction: the surveillance program has been engineered to sweep up American communications in vast quantity, while giving the NSA cover to claim that it is not intentionally targeting Americans.

This deliberate collection of Americans’ communications happens in at least three ways. First, the government can target foreigners on the other end of Americans’ international communications. So, if you call or email family, friends, or business associates abroad, the NSA can intercept those communications so long as it doesn’t intentionally target a specific, known American in another country. The surveillance must also relate to “foreign intelligence,” but this term has been construed so broadly as to be all but meaningless.

Second, the government has set a dismally low bar for concluding that a potential surveillance target is, in fact, a foreigner located abroad. By default, targets are assumed to be foreign. That’s right, the procedures allow the NSA to presume that prospective targets are foreigners outside the United States absent specific information to the contrary—and to presume therefore that those individuals are fair game for warrantless surveillance.

Third, the procedures allow the NSA to collect not just the communications of a foreign target, but any communications about a foreign target. This provision likely results in significant over-collection of even purely domestic communications. So, rather than striving to protect Americans, the procedures err on the side of over-collection and less respect for privacy rights.

Indeed, these exceptions and loopholes open the door to the routine interception of American communications. And this doesn’t just result from the odd mistake; this is what the law was designed to do.

Full article: … nadvertent-it-claims