"The NSA has turned the Internet into a giant surveillance platform," declared renowned tech guru and Harvard Berkman Center fellow Bruce Schneier at the Cato Institute's conference on NSA domestic spying last fall. There are supposed to be some limits on how much snooping the NSA and its minions can do on Americans, but a new analysis by two Harvard researchers suggests that with clever technical work-arounds combined with creative legal interpretations the agency can brush aside even those paltry restrictions. In its "Americans as 'vulnerable' to NSA surveillance as foreigners, despite the Fourth Amendment" article, ZDNet reports:
"The loopholes in current surveillance laws and today's internet technology may leave American communications as vulnerable to surveillance, and as unprotected, as the internet traffic of foreigners," [Axel] Arnbak [co-author of the new paper] said.
Although Americans are afforded constitutional protections against the US government from unwarranted searches of their emails, documents, social networking data, and other cloud-stored data while it's stored or in-transit on US soil, the researchers suggest these protections do not exist when American data leaves the country.
By manipulating internet traffic to push American data outside of the country, the NSA can vacuum up vast amounts of US citizen data for intelligence purposes, thus "circumventing constitutional and statutory safeguards seeking to protect the privacy of Americans," they warned.
ZDNet reports that an NSA spokesperson denied via email that the agency "targets" U.S. persons by intentionally routing their emails outside the U.S. Perhaps. But the NSA's lexicon is more than a bit artful, as American Civil Liberties Union analysts Jameel Jaffer and Brett Max Kaufman pointed out in Slate last July. Words like surveillance, collect, relevant, incidental, inadvertant, minimize and targeted don't mean what most of us think that they mean. Jaffer and Kaufman point out that targeted surveillance outside the U.S. is not limited to just foreigners:
The government's foreign targets aren't necessarily criminals or terrorists'"they may be journalists, lawyers, academics, or human rights advocates. And even if one is indifferent to the NSA's invasion of foreigners' privacy, the surveillance of those foreigners involves the acquisition of Americans' communications with those foreigners. The spying may be "targeted" at foreigners, but it vacuums up thousands of Americans' phone calls and emails.
In fact, the Harvard researchers observe:
A network owned by a single organization (even an organization that is nominally "based" in the U.S. such as Yahoo! or Google) can be physically located in multiple jurisdictions. The revealed MUSCULAR/TURMOIL program illustrates how the N.S.A. exploited this by presuming authority under E[xecutive] O[rder] 12333 to acquire traffic between Google and Yahoo! servers located on foreign territory, collecting up to 180 million user records per month, regardless of nationality.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation reported last fall just how broadly Executive Order 12333 is being interpreted by the NSA when it comes to spying on Americans whose internet traffic is incidentally routed outside the country.
Given the past record of the NSA's leadership with regard to truthtelling, it's reasonable to assume that the agency is engaging in technical hanky-panky as a way to get around the pesky Fourth Amendment rights of Americans. Because there is no way to correct its abuses and corruptions, it remains the case that "Secret Government is the Chief Threat to Liberty."