The NSA or National Security Agency is a government program intended to protect the national security of all American people. The agency is set up to scan email and phone records for any suspicious activity that may pose a threat to the United States. How the program is set up, people from the agency are only intended to look for prolonged communication between two people. And when they find any conversations that they feel pose a threat to the United States, the director of the NSA must go to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court or FISA and present a case as to why the NSA needs a warrant to further investigate these conversations.
Although this is what the NSA is supposed to do, federal officials have recently released classified documents showing the misuse of this program dating as far back as 2009. Instead of getting a warrant to perform a search, the agency has just pulled the trigger and illegally gone through some Americans’ information. This information included telephone numbers, calling patterns, and the collection of Internet user names and IP addresses.
One judge, Reggie Walton, of FISA became so disturbed of the repeated violations by the NSA that he imposed a restriction on their ability to access bulk databases of phone records. According to Walton, thousands of American phone numbers were improperly accessed by the government. This indicates that the directer of the National Surveillance Agency, Keith Alexander, gave misleading information to the court about how the agency carried out their surveillance. He told the FISA court in 2009 that from a technical standpoint, there was no single person who had a complete understanding of its phone records “architecture”.
In 2009, Walton questioned wether or not the program would be allowed to continue. He questioned the value of the program, and if it was justified by protecting the nation’s national security. He demanded the agency not be able to access their collected data until the government is able to restore the court’s confidence in the NSA.
After further investigations, the NSA discovered one of its partnering agencies had improperly stored credit card numbers in its databases. Instead of terminating this stored information, the government claimed that by destroying these records it would result in a loss of evidence gathered by the NSA linked to these credit card numbers. However, the agency pledged that under a future data-management program, they will transfer all of their collected data into a new database and purge all credit card information.
To make matters worse a separate document was released stating the the government had been querying phone records in a manner contrary to the court order. The documents (posted on social media website Tumblr) came after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) sued the FBI for disclosure about the phone records through the Freedom of Information Act.
The ACLU and EFF show that the government failed to mention that Alexander, the NSA director, declared to FISA his standards for searching through Americans’ phone records were inaccurate. In order to monitor phone records, the NSA would need reasonable suspicion of terrorism. Alexander bypassed this standard, telling the court he used an alert process for the incoming stream of metadata.
He also claimed that there was a safeguard in place to ensure that the analysts from the agency did not disseminate or analyze personal phone records. And the agency’s failure to fully describe the alert process is why the FISA court were unable to determine wether or not their court orders were being implemented properly.
Despite the NSA’s clear invasion of privacy and disregard for the fourth amendment, it has done well in regards to preventing terrorist attacks. Over 50 attacks have been prevented worldwide by the NSA, including he New York bombing of Najibullah Zazi in the fall of 2009. The NSA intercepted an email he sent to his leaders in Pakistan and were able to stop the attempt before any damage was done.
So it all comes down to the question all Americana must ask themselves, what is more important: the security of the nation or our own personal privacy?