The NSA’s primary job is to keep us, the American public, safe. The heads of our government vehemently claim that the NSA’s spying has prevented 54 potential terrorist attacks as their big claim to legitimacy but the truth is that much of the information they collected from phones and the internet activity provided little to no value in preventing these attacks. What the NSA is doing is wasting their time and invading our privacy.
Defenders of the NSA have obstructed themselves from the truth by repeating loose claims of justice and forgiveness. There are five big bubbles that Cindy Cohn and Nadia Kayyali from eff.org are trying burst:
The NSA has stopped 54 terrorist attacks with mass spying.David Sterman, Peter Bergen from newsamerica.org give some figures to help us understand what kind of information the NSA has collected and how useful it truly is.
“the controversial bulk collection of American telephone metadata, which includes the telephone numbers that originate and receive calls, as well as the time and date of those calls but not their content, under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act, appears to have played an identifiable role in initiating, at most, 1.8 percent of these cases. NSA programs involving the surveillance of non-U.S. persons outside of the United States under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act played a role in 4.4 percent of the terrorism cases we examined, and NSA surveillance under an unidentified authority played a role in 1.3 percent of the cases we examined.”
Cahall et al. describe the information appropriately as bulk. The NSA collects such a massive amount of information so that it can sit around and do nothing.
The claim that, “collecting call detail records isn’t a big deal” is misguiding making it a weak defense for the NSA. Officials try to brush off the severity of this data by saying that it isn’t very useful. This data is not useful and that is why the NSA collects so much of it. If they were telling us the truth, the collection of this data would be a complete waste of time and if they are lying to us, the data must have some other purpose if so little of it is being used to prevent terrorist attacks.
The NSA and its defenders claim that the power and information they have is use appropriately and not abused for other means. With the amount of power NSA employees have over their fellow Americans, it can take Facebook stalking to an entirely different level. Some NSA employees have not been able to resist the allure of knowing the private information of people they may care about and spied on people for their own personal gain. There have been reports of these employees monitoring ex-spouses.
Defenders think that “invading privacy is okay because it’s done to prevent terrorist attacks.” Because the surveillance is done electronically, thinking about it in a physical way emphasizes how serious of a violation to everyday life it truly is. By no one’s standards would it be acceptable for the government to enter your home looking for private information for “preventative measures.” That same attitude should be applied to the means of acquisition the NSA uses.
Finally, the loosest claim of all is that there is plenty of oversight from Congress, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, and Agency Watchdogs. The process that the NSA must go through to start surveillance on a certain party or aquire a specific set of information requires them to make an application that must past through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court which as average American citizens, we would hope is strict about what information the NSA is allowed to get their hands on. The truth is that the FISC approves of almost anything that NSA asks for without even knowing the full context of the request. The court’s track record show that it has “denied just 10 applications, and modified several dozen, while approving more than 15,000” in 11 years. In most recent years, FISC denied none.