When former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden blew the whistle on NSA spying, the story had bracing and wonderful effects. But alert Americans should have already known at least five reasons to be alarmed at the agency and its activities, and the general state of surveillance and privacy in the U.S.A.
1. Whistleblowers have warned us about an out-of-control NSA before.
Before Snowden became a household name, there was Thomas Drake, indicted in 2010 under the Espionage Act after he said publicly that an NSA data collection program might be being used illegally to gather data on Americans. (Drake pled guilty to one small charge. The bigger ones were ultimately dropped.)
2005 NSA data-collection scandal broken by the New York Times. That scandal circled around the NSA's Bush-era warrantless wiretapping program.And don’t forget William Binney and J. Kirk Wiebe. Each had their homes raided by the FBI in 2007, when they were suspected of being the sources of a
These guys are in a position to know more than the average reporter about NSA capabilities and practice, so it's worth noting that Binney told the Daily Caller after Snowden's leaks that the NSA may have its mitts on more than just “metadata” or pen register stuff. They likely have audio as well:
The former FBI agent, Tim Clemente, says they can get access to the content of any audio, any phone call. He says that there are no digital communications that are safe or secure. So that means that they were tapping into the databases that NSA has. For the recorded audio, and for the textual materials like emails and phone…..Now I don’t think they’re recording all of it; there are about 3 billion phone calls made within the USA every day. And then around the world, there are something like 10 billion a day. But, while they may not record anywhere near all of that, what they do is take their target list, which is somewhere on the order of 500,000 to a million people. They look through these phone numbers and they target those and that’s what they record.
The three whistleblowers' lawyer, Jesselyn Radack, explained to USA Today that the NSA doesn’t take kindly to people who complain about illegal activity through official channels. "The inspector general was the one who gave their names to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution under the Espionage Act," she said. "And they were all targets of a federal criminal investigation, and Tom [Drake] ended up being prosecuted—and it was for blowing the whistle."
Even in the U.S. Senate, legislators such as Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) long ago were warning that the government was secretly using its Patriot Act Section 215 authority to grab private information about Americans from private businesses. In 2006, then-Sen. Joe Biden, currently vice president, expressed alarm about the Bush-era NSA. Biden's concern did not just involve technical legality, which the 2008 FISA amendments supposedly took care of. It involved the core Fourth Amendment questions raised by such broad and intrusive data collection, even if the dragnet is only amassing patterns and not direct audio wiretaps.