Two things to contemplate on early Sunday morning, before church or political talk shows get underway:
Remember all those times we were told that the government, especially the National Security Agency (NSA), only tracks folks who either guilty of something or involved in suspicious-seeming activity? Well, we're going to have amend that a bit. Using documents from Edward Snowden, the Washington Post's Barton Gellman, Julie Tate, and Ashkan Soltani report
Ordinary Internet users, American and non-American alike, far outnumber legally targeted foreigners in the communications intercepted by the National Security Agency from U.S. digital networks, according to a four-month investigation by The Washington Post.
Nine of 10 account holders found in a large cache of intercepted conversations, which former NSA contractor Edward Snowden provided in full to The Post, were not the intended surveillance targets but were caught in a net the agency had cast for somebody else.
Many of them were Americans. Nearly half of the surveillance files, a strikingly high proportion, contained names, e-mail addresses or other details that the NSA marked as belonging to U.S. citizens or residents. NSA analysts masked, or "minimized," more than 65,000 such references to protect Americans' privacy, but The Post found nearly 900 additional e-mail addresses, unmasked in the files, that could be strongly linked to U.S. citizens or U.S.residents.
The cache of documents in question date from 2009 through 2012 and comprise 160,000 documents collected up the PRISM and Upstream, which collect data from different sources. "Most of the people caught up in those programs are not the targets and would not lawfully qualify as such," write Gellman, Julie Tate, and Ashkan Soltani, who also underscore that NSA surveillance has produced some very meaningful and good intelligence. The real question is whether the government can do that in a way that doesn't result in massive dragnet programs that create far more problems ultimately than they solve (remember the Church Committee?).
Read the whole thing. And before anyone raises the old "if you're innocent, you've got nothing to hide shtick," read Scott Shackford's "3 Reasons the 'Noting to Hide' Crowd Should be worried about Government Surveillance."
And in case you think you've somehow slipped the surveillance drag, check this out. Over at Boing Boing, Cory Doctorow walks through the rules used by the NSA to figure out who is worthy of being watched. Among the trip wires are interests in Tor, an encrypted browser (partly funded by the U.S. government to help online activists in repressive regimes) and Tails, a secure operating system favored by the likes of Edward Snowden.
We've written a fair amount about the Tor Project, including a great interview with Karen Reilly, the project's development director. "People are under the impression that the Internet is sort of anonymous by default," Reilly told us last year. "They don't know how many digital trails they're leaving behind."
More on the new Tor and Tails revelations at Reason 24/7, courtesy of Zenon Evans.
Here's our interview with Reilly. Don't watch unless you want to open yourself up to NSA snooping. Oh, wait, it's already too late.