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Proposal to Limit the National Security Agencys Spying On US Citizens Jack Delaney April 10, 2014 The National

Security Agency (NSA) recently came under fire due to the actions of whistleblower Edward Snowden. The ongoing revelations released by Snowden include sensitive information about the United States spying operations. The NSA has been secretly spying on US citizens for years without warrants or probable cause. Controversy surrounds the issue because while many believe that the government is overstepping its bounds and violating personal privacy provided by the ninth amendment, others believe it is a necessary precaution to prevent acts of terrorism. Even President Obama has now publicly backtracked on certain aspects of the NSAs capabilities that he had previously approved. The issue will remain in the spotlight for years to come, as Snowden is slowly releasing all of the documents he has obtained. The Issue Overview of the NSA and Its Purpose President Harry Truman established the National Security Agency on November 4, 1952 as part of an effort to continue Americas World War II success at code breaking.1 As time progressed, the NSAs goals moved beyond breaking codes. They worked on gathering intelligence during the Cuban Missile Crisis, developed voice encryption systems used in American airplanes and boats, and eventually began to make use of rapidly developing Internet and cell phone technology to continue gathering intelligence. 2 The NSA is now our countrys biggest intelligence organization and focuses mainly on overseas surveillance. General Keith Alexander runs the NSA and is overseen by Obamas Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. Certain congressional intelligence committees

also oversee the NSA to maintain proper proceedings.3 Now, the NSAs official website describes what they as twofold; Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) gathers information about Americas adversaries and Information Assurance protects Americas security information. They also clearly stipulate that they protect American citizens right to privacy as guaranteed by the Constitution and U.S. laws.1

Scandal Breaks On June 5, 2013, U.K. newspaper The Guardian announced that they had received sensitive information regarding the National Security Agency that they would release shortly. With the announcement, The Guardian revealed that Verizon was forced to hand over millions of cell phone records to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the NSA. The following day, The Guardian broke a bigger story. The NSA has been operating PRISM, a program that allows the NSA to have direct access to

Number of American Users Affected by Data Requests in a 6 month Period by Website

Number of Users 50,000 40,000 30,000 20,000 10,000 0 40,322 21,683 21,000 18,809 3,507 3,000 1,319

Google, Facebook, Apple, YouTube, Paypal, Skype, and other prominent websites. The effects of this access are demonstrated in the chart to the left that reveals the number of users


affected. Officials have

access to search history, emails, file transfers, and live chats of users.4 26 Within the next few days, more articles detailing the scandal were released from the anonymous source. Among these

revelations were the facts that Obama has a list of potential targets for cyber intelligence and that the NSA collects over 3 billion pieces of intelligence on American citizens per month.5 After several days of releasing NSA stories, the whistleblower elected to reveal himself in interviews with The Guardian and The Washington Post. Twenty-nine year old Edward Snowden had been a CIA employee and a contractor for the NSA as an infrastructure analyst. As he learned the secrets behind the NSA and the lack of accountability within the system, Snowden decided that Americans had the right to know this. While stationed in Hawaii at the management and consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton, he copied the NSA documents he intended to leak before fleeing to Hong Kong. There, he reviewed all documents to make sure there were no national secrets that would harm people, differentiating himself from leakers such as WikiLeaks Julian Assange, who has faced criticism for endangering others with his work.6 Snowden elected to go to Hong Kong due to their spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent. Furthermore, he felt that Hong Kong could (and would) resist U.S. extradition requests. However, he accepts the chance that he may face jail time and is not afraid of doing so. Currently, Snowden lives in Russia.7 After Snowdens personal reveal, articles continued coming out with classified documents, including ones about the monitoring of foreign politicians who took part in G20 Summit meetings in London. On the instruction of the British government, phone calls and emails of targets such as the Turkish finance minister were intercepted. The NSA and British equivalent GCHQ worked together to decode encrypted phone calls made by the Russian president.8 Is this all legal? The vast majority of the intelligence gathered by the NSA is clearly legal and justified by United States laws. The documents Edward Snowden released were in regards to intelligence

that falls into a legal gray area; vague wording in laws allows the NSA to spy on U.S. citizens, but the fact that they were doing so had only been suspected until Snowden blew the whistle. The most notable law that allows NSA surveillance on American citizens to continue is the Patriot Act. The Patriot Act was passed just forty-five days after the September 11, 2001 attacks. The purpose of the act is to combat terrorism and prevent further attacks on America.9 The act passed through Congress extremely quickly and underwent relatively little debate. As time has passed after the September 11th attacks, critics claim that the act oversteps government bounds and were hastily passed.10 The section of the Patriot Act that is most pertinent to the NSA is Section 215. The vague wording in this section causes the actions of the NSA to fall into a technically legal gray area. The section stipulates that the NSA can collect "tangible things that are 'relevant' to an authorized preliminary or full investigation to obtain foreign intelligence information not concerning a U.S. person or to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities."11 At no point in the Patriot Act is it clarified neither what defines tangible things nor what is relevant to authorized investigations. Thus, the NSA is largely up to its own discretion to determine if these criteria are met. In order to investigate both known and unknown terrorists, the agency has to collect the cell phone data of everyone, regardless of any probably cause or reasonable suspicion. The NSA can collect information on citizens cell phone records, emails, medical history, financial situation, and travel records. In fact, the NSA can even seize library and video rental records.11 In summation, the actions of the NSA are legal due to ambiguous wording in the Patriot Act, namely Section 215. If Its Legal, Why Is This a Scandalous Revelation?

With the passing of the Patriot Act, many suspected that the government was using its powers to spy on United States citizens without warrants, though it was assumed that this was only for suspected terrorists. Some people take issue even with this, feeling that suspicion is not enough to justify wiretaps and other forms of monitoring. The reason that Snowdens reveal created such a splash is that previously it had only been an assumption. A final confirmation of what had only been a possibility resulted in public outcry. In a 2014 survey, Americans that did not believe they should have to give up privacy and freedom to be safe from terrorism nearly tripled those who did, and only half of Americans approved of the NSA. 12 13

Should we have to give up privacy and freedom in order to be safe from terrorism?
4% Yes No 70% No Opinion

Compare this to support for the Patriot Act in 2005, four years after the law was passed. Nearly 60% of Americans not only approved of the NSA, but also wanted the Patriot Act expanded.14 Now that PRISM


and other NSA actions have come to light, people are much more hesitant to allow the government to have access to so much national intelligence. Despite this, less than half of the country felt that Snowden was benefitting the public interest and fifty-six percent say that the government should pursue a criminal case against Snowden.12 The split in public opinion shows that even with the ensuing outrage, Snowdens reveal did not create enough uproar to drastically shift the publics view of the National Security Agency.

Did Snowden's reveal help or harm public interest?


The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Positives of NSAs Surveillance


Help Harm No Opinion

The events of September 11, 2001 rocked the world and changed the way Americans think about public safety. The threat of terrorists suddenly became real, and hit close to home for thousands of people. Naturally, Americans would love to prevent a future act of terrorism like 9/11. The NSA works tirelessly to prevent this from happening. Over sixty terrorist plots have been aimed at the United States since 9/11, and no major ones have succeeded.15 NSA director Keith Alexander explained that there isnt a better way to defend the country from terrorist attacks than the bulk collection of phone records. Furthermore, shutting down PRISM would open up a blind spot in United States defenses. The news of PRISMs shutdown would be publicly available and terrorists could potentially take advantage of that knowledge.16 Furthermore, those who have nothing to hide should theoretically not worry about this at all. The NSA collects all Internet data but reviews less than 1% of it.17 The government has far more important things to worry about than the phone calls, texts, and emails of the majority of American citizens. Negatives of the NSAs Surveillance The surveillance done by the National Security Agency is a major breach of privacy. Collecting data on all Americans without warrants or even reasonable cause is a violation of the ninth amendment that allows for privacy. Intentionally vague wording in the Patriot Act technically allows this, but the act was passed in the wake of a terrorist attack, clouding the judgment of Congressmen. This collection of data discourages people from speaking freely,

exploring controversial ideas, and associating with particular people. One in six writers have said that they avoided writing or speaking about certain topics like national security, the Middle East, and drug wars solely because they fear government surveillance.18 These go against the ideals of freedom that America is founded upon. The rapid advancement towards a surveillance state is perhaps more dangerous than the risk of terrorists. In 2011, the U.S. Department of State reported that 17 American citizens died worldwide as a result of terrorism. In the same year, an outbreak of listeria in contaminated cantaloupe killed 33 people in America. Nearly twice as many people died from eating cantaloupe as from terrorists. This comparison reveals that the risk of terrorism is relatively low. The United States spends $75 billion per year in intelligence agencies to spy on its own citizens to prevent something that is a comparatively low risk.17 In the same month that the PRISM revelations came to light, NSA director Keith Alexander justified the spying on American citizens. Alexander said that NSA programs had disrupted 54 terrorist plots solely using information obtained under Act 215.19 This is a sizable amount of plots foiled by the NSA. However, this was not true. Alexander later came out and backtracked heavily. Of the 54 supposed plots, only 13 had anything to do with the United States. Of these 13, Alexander stated that only one or two plots had been foiled with any help from the NSAs programs. Even these one or two foiled plots have now fallen under scrutiny to determine if the NSA provided any useful information.17 20 Alexander going completely against his prior word shows that the government does not want its citizens to know the whole truth about the NSAs programs and their effectiveness. Snowden leaked a PowerPoint presentation in February 2014 that showed how the NSA handles people, companies, and organizations that they do not like. The PowerPoint gives tips

like changing their photos on social networking sites, writing fake blogs pretending to be a victim of theirs, emailing their friends and neighbors with false information, and leaking confidential information gained through warrantless surveillance. The NSA even provides a helpful memory tool for hurting the reputations of others. The 4 Ds are deny, disrupt, degrade, and deceive.21 These tactics are not used to disrupt terrorist organizations, but rather companies, people, and organizations that have conflicting interests to the U.S. government. This is a clear violation of freedom of expression. In the summer of July 2013, Michele Cantalano was interested in buying a new pressure cooker online. Later that day, her husband searched for a new backpack. Instead of a package from Amazon sitting on the Cantalanos doorstep, Michele found members of the Joint Terrorist Task Force. The NSAs algorithm deemed her and her husband highly suspicious and their house was searched.22 People should not have to worry about Googling innocent things and ending up on government watch lists. The Cantalanos were not looking up specific directions for creating bombs, nor communicating with known terrorists. Two simple Google searches that happened to be the same items used in the Boston Marathon bombing were enough to get their houseand privacyinvaded by government agents. Even when the NSA does attempt to foil terror plots, they sometimes end up disturbing innocent people for innocuous Google searches. Current Policy and Reform Obamas Current Stance Despite President Barack Obamas original support (and even extension) of surveillance laws set in place under George W. Bush, he now has recommended some small modifications. He proposes the following changes: setting 18 months as the maximum date telephone

companies retain data for most circumstances, data is stored by companies rather than the NSA, and limiting the range of data queries. These modifications are widely regarded to be just political gesturing to appease those who are upset about the situation. The changes only apply to telephone messages, so email, texts, social media, video cameras, and Internet searches are still fully accessible to the NSA. Also, the 18-month maximum date for storage can be easily bypassed because the NSA retains the right to voluntarily bypass the stipulation and hold data for an unspecified time. Furthermore, the NSA has the right to monitor any party or organization, immediately giving them access to the phone and Internet records of every member, whether alleged or confirmed. Additionally, the NSA will still maintain a backdoor into all of the data stored by companies, so having the companies store the data does nothing. 24

Proposal for Policy Concerning NSA Surveillance The power allotted to the National Security Agency needs to be drastically reigned in. However, the NSA certainly should not be abolished. It started as a reputable organization and can regain that status upon reform. The first step of this reform should be requiring warrants for any data surveillance. Innocent citizens should not have the government looking into their Internet search histories and phone records. The nothing to hide argument is a violation of personal privacy and has no place in a free country. The most important thing one can do to fix this situation is to be vocal and stay informed. Many people are completely oblivious to the fact that the government is spying on its citizens without warrants. The government would love for these stories to die down, or the people and media to get bored of the topic and move on. By spreading knowledge about the actions of the

NSA, the topic will remain on everyones minds. Already, public pressure has caused Obama to backtrack on surveillance policy. By writing and calling congressmen (and not voting for those supporting maintaining current levels of surveillance), the public can have their voices heard. Proposing moderate reform and not being radical also goes a long way to prove that it is not an irrational idea to alter the current surveillance policies. The bulk-data collection must come to an end. Phone companies and Internet service providers should be required to hold records for 3 years and not give the NSA a backdoor into their databases. This would allow the NSA to look into past phone recordsrather than just a wiretapwithout giving them complete access. Forcing the NSA to get a warrant on substantial evidence would be a tremendous step back towards a proper justice system. Most importantly, a committee should be formed that would have the specific duty of overseeing the NSA. As of now, there are little to no checks and balances for the NSA. Having more accountability would force the NSA to abide by the rules and not abuse its powers to get warrants on flimsy evidence. As part of this step, all officials who lied should be fired, if not arrested and prosecuted. Managers in government should not be immune to the laws that everyone else is held by. These steps would keep the NSA intact but sharply curb the amount of domestic spying that they currently do. There is no doubt the NSA is a useful agency to continue operating and that it would be foolish to completely dismantle it; the NSA is the worlds leading cryptographic community and has created the Data Encryption Standard, not to mention providing intelligence on foreign countries.25 Spying on a countrys own citizens should only be done in a case where there is substantial evidence pointing to it being necessary. America is the land of the free, not the subject of George Orwells 1984. The National Security Agencys domestic, unwarranted

spying should cease, and the NSA should undergo reform in order to be held accountable for its actions.

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