The National Security Agency (N.S.A.) has started to come clean about tracking Americans cell phone data and what data was being collected. NSA admits to tracking the cell phone location of Americans in a test pilot project in 2010 and 2011.
According to the New York Times, “it was unclear how many Americans’ locational data was collected as part of the project, whether the agency has held on to that information or why the program did not go forward.”
NSA claimed that they never moved forward with the program. The “experiment” pilot project was to test how location information would move into the massive databases containing other information on Americans. Cell phone location is considered to be one of the most sensitive data that a cell phone emits, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Since most people carry their cell phones everywhere they go it is possible that the location data tracking could lead to the government knowing most intimate daily habits and movements of not only the person whose phone is being tracked but friends and family members whom the person had come into contact with throughout the day.
The biggest problem with NSA’s admission of the test pilot program is that it admitted to doing an illegal activity. NSA’s chief Keith Alexander said during a Senate hearing, “Under Section 215, NSA is not receiving cell site location data and has no current plans to do so.” The recent admission of past collection clearly violated Section 215 of the Patriot Act.
In order to counter-act negative reaction to the admission, Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper told Congress that if they started their location recollection program they would inform the intelligence committee and FISA court. That means that Americans could still be kept in the dark if the program, a clear violation of the Patriot Act and one that brings up Fourth Amendment issues, were to become restarted.
I feel safer already, don’t you?
The federal surveillance court has released a declassified opinion that upholds the National Security Agency’s (NSA) phone program. The FISA court decided that the gathering of billions of phone records for counterterrorism purposes was constitutional and justified.
Gathering of “all call detail records” of phone companies by NSA is justifiable as long as the gathering of the data is relevant to an authorized investigation. The most significant part of the ruling is that it mentions that the data is justifiable if the government can show that there is an authorized investigation into unknown terrorists who may be in the United States. This begs the question of how there could possibly be an authorized investigation into unknown terroristic persons on reasonable grounds without the collection of the phone data.
According to the opinion, the government only needs “reasonable grounds to believe” that the phone records will be relevant to the investigation in order to legally collect the phone records. The burden of proof the government needs is much lower than that needed in a criminal investigation. The court claims this is because the goal is not to solve a crime but to prevent a terrorist attack.
Critics claim that the opinion released by the court is not justifiable by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) or the Constitution. Jameel Jaffer, American Civil Liberties Union deputy legal director, told the Washington Post, “This isn’t a judicial opinion in the conventional sense. It’s a document that appears to have been cobbled together over the last few weeks in an effort to justify a decision that was made seven years ago. I don’t know of any precedent for that, and it raises a lot of questions.”
Privacy issues have come into question when Edward Snowden leaked information about the NSA spy program. The government’s stance from the beginning has been that the broad collection of data is needed to find unknown terrorist operatives in the United States. It is still unclear how much scope the NSA program actually has over the data it has collected from billions of homes across the nation.
And, now we also hear about . . . N.S.A. Gathers Data on Social Connections of U.S. Citizens