NSA: Our Surveillance System Is Too Complex to Stop
If this don’t beat all! That the NSA is arrogant enough to use this argument is bad enough, but for the Court to accept it is beyond belief. And they wonder why Americans’ trust in their Government is at historic lows. Why don’t they just abide by the Constitution? It’s not that hard! It just goes to show us they are all bought and paid for. – Shorty Dawkins, Associate Editor
Written by Joe Wolverton, II, J.D
The National Security Agency (NSA) claims that its computers are so powerful that to try to protect data from erasure would have “an immediate, specific, and harmful impact on the national security of the United States.”
This is the argument put forth by the surveillance agency to excuse itself from preserving data relevant to numerous legal challenges it faces to the constitutionality of its dragnet collection of telephone and Internet activity.
District Court Judge Jeffrey S. White reversed an earlier order he had issued enjoining the federal government from destroying data that one of the plaintiffs — the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) — had requested be saved from the virtual shredder. Specifically, EFF wants to include information collected under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Amendments.
The NSA balked, insisting that protecting the information would be overly burdensome.
“A requirement to preserve all data acquired under section 702 presents significant operational problems, only one of which is that the NSA may have to shut down all systems and databases that contain Section 702 information,” NSA Deputy Director Richard Ledgett claimed in a document submitted to the court.
He averred that due to the high complexity of the surveillance equipment, the attempt at preservation might not work and it if did, the safety of the United States could be imperiled.
Pointing to the regulations imposed by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (the so-called FISA Court), Ledgett argued that the risks of data preservation far outweigh the rewards, and the complexity of such an operation outweighs them both.
“Communications acquired pursuant to Section 702 reside within multiple databases contained on multiple systems and the precise manner in which NSA stays consistent with its legal obligations under the [FISA Amendments Act] has resulted from years of detailed interaction” with the FISA Court and the Justice Department, Ledgett wrote in the filing quoted by the Washington Post.
The NSA routinely destroys data “via a combination of technical and human-based processes,” he added.
In an interview with the Washington Post, EFF’s legal director Cindy Cohn expressed her belief that the government’s excuses raised more concerns:
To me, it demonstrates that once the government has custody of this information even they can’t keep track of it anymore even for purposes of what they don’t want to destroy.
With the huge amounts of data that they’re gathering it’s not surprising to me that it’s difficult to keep track — that’s why I think it’s so dangerous for them to be collecting all this data en masse.
The NSA’s “our systems are too sophisticated to stop” argument sounds very similar to another excuse they gave Congress a couple of years ago.
In July of 2011 and again in May 2012, Senators Mark Udall (D-Colo.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) wrote a letter to Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper, Jr., asking him a series of four questions regarding the activities of the NSA and other intelligence agencies with reference to domestic surveillance.
In one of the questions, Udall and Wyden asked Clapper if “any apparently law-abiding Americans had their communications collected by the government pursuant to the FISA Amendments Act,” and if so, how many Americans were affected by this surveillance.
In a response to the inquiry dated June 15, 2012, I. Charles McCullough III informed the senators that calculating the number of Americans who’ve had their electronic communications “collected or reviewed” by the NSA was “beyond the capacity of his office and dedicating sufficient additional resources would likely impede the NSA’s mission.
In other words, the NSA was too busy illegally recording our private e-mails, texts, Facebook posts, and phone calls to figure out how many of us are already caught in their net. And furthermore, there is nothing Congress can do about it.