To understand how the NSA is supposed to be protecting us, we must know what they are allowed to moniter and what they are actually monitering. We as the American public have come to imagine the NSA as the omnipotent Big Brother figure listening to our every conversation and looking at our every email. And it is not an incorrect interpretation of the NSA at all. They have no limits to their power which allows them to access all the information our lives on a whim.
What the NSA is allowed to moniter can be summarized in a single word: Everything. Absolutely nothing is off limits for the NSA to know, domestically and internationally. Before the NSA is allowed to start snooping around for whatever they feel like, they must first go through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). Under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, phone companies and other third parties are required to disclose information as long as it is relevant to international terrorism, counterespionage, or foreign intelligence investigation. Although those topics are important matters to the American public, their relevancy may seem subjective in some cases. There is nothing stopping them from just simply claiming that someone is suspicious and relevant to a foreign intelligence investigation. Their claims of relevance to international terrorism may be as relevant as random airport searches are “random”. In some cases, the NSA is not even clear about what they intend on doing but the FISC approves it anyway. They hide as much from us as they possibly can. In addition to unclear applications for aquisition, the providers of the information are held under “gag-orders” to not disclose the release or the use of this information. What they are doing is legal as NPR states because there has been no “‘spying’ on Americans without a court order” but such a lenient court allows for flexible legality.
Although we know most of our personal information is harmless, private information should still remain private. The FISC needs to be stricter with what is classified as terroristic and the amount of information and context that the required to approve an application for surveillance. What the NSA is doing now is unnacceptable and something needs to be done.
“Are They Allowed to Do That? A Breakdown of Selected Government Surveillance Programs” Brennan Center For Justice. 3 December 2015
“5 Things To Know About The NSA’s Surveillance Activities” NPR.org Krishnadev Calamur, 23 October 2013. 3 December 2015