A new report released today concludes that NSA bulk collection of communications data has done little to keep Americans safe. The report draws similar conclusions to those of a panel appointed by President Barack Obama in the wake of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden’s revelations, which looked into NSA data collection.
The five-member panel, which released their own report in December, had recommended new restrictions on the security agency’s ability to collect records of Americans’ phone conversations. It also confronted the contentious issue of so-called “warrantless wiretapping,” basically, recommending a ban on the practice.
Despite breaching the Fourth Amendment guarantee that Americans not be subject to illegal search and seizure, warrantless wiretapping was made “legal” during the Presidency of George W. Bush, to the consternation of many on the political Left, Libertarians and civil liberties groups. The measure was allowed by an executive order signed by Bush; it allowed the NSA to collect data on international calls without seeking a warrant from a court. The agency was still required to seek a warrant in order to tap into domestic communications. The practice was endorsed by Congress in 2008 when it passed legislation that rewrote certain provisions of the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).
Despite speaking out against the bill, then-Senator Obama voted for it, disappointing many of his supporters. Although the President – as candidate – promised to prevent the intelligence community spying on American citizens, he had, until the Snowden revelations, done nothing to increase oversight of NSA activities. In 2011, he reauthorized the Patriot Act and, at the end of last year, signed a five-year extension of the FISA Amendments Act. Although amendments to this bill had been proposed that would have demanded more accountability to Congress, the Senate voted them down.
During a 2007 speech, Barack Obama accused the Bush administration of “putting forward a false choice between the liberties we cherish and the security we provide.” He went to on assert that, when he became President, there would be “no more illegal wiretapping of American citizens.” and also that American citizens who are not suspected of any wrongdoing would not have their information collected by security services. “There is also little doubt,” Obama said in a 2008 campaign statement, “that the Bush Administration, with the cooperation of major telecommunications companies, has abused that authority and undermined the Constitution by intercepting the communications of innocent Americans without their knowledge or the required court orders.” The practice has continued to the present day, however.
The latest report from the Washington, D.C. non-profit New America Foundation, shows that NSA spying on American citizens is doing little to keep Americans safe. A study of 227 terror cases shows that the bulk data collection and surveillance conducted by the NSA contributed less than eight percent of evidence gathered against individuals who faced terror charges. Traditional investigative methods accounted for 59.6% of evidence gathered that helped to detect terror plots. The Obama-appointed panel, known as the Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies, concluded that NSA counterterrorism measures was not essential to preventing attacks” and that the mass storage of data “creates potential risks to public trust, personal privacy, and civil liberty.” Further, the panel advised that, generally, the federal government should not be permitted to gather and store mass, unfiltered data on private communications.
By Graham J Noble