Patterico's Pontifications


NSA Discloses the Breathtaking Scope of Its Claimed Powers, Or, Maybe Snowden Was Right!; UPDATE: Nadler Retracts/Clarifies

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 5:01 pm

This is about as startling a confirmation as I have heard yet:

The National Security Agency has acknowledged in a new classified briefing that it does not need court authorization to listen to domestic phone calls.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat, disclosed this week that during a secret briefing to members of Congress, he was told that the contents of a phone call could be accessed “simply based on an analyst deciding that.”

If the NSA wants “to listen to the phone,” an analyst’s decision is sufficient, without any other legal authorization required, Nadler said he learned. “I was rather startled,” said Nadler, an attorney who serves on the House Judiciary committee.

Not only does this disclosure shed more light on how the NSA’s formidable eavesdropping apparatus works domestically, it suggests the Justice Department has secretly interpreted federal surveillance law to permit thousands of low-ranking analysts to eavesdrop on phone calls.

Because the same legal standards that apply to phone calls also apply to e-mail messages, text messages, and instant messages, Nadler’s disclosure indicates the NSA analysts could also access the contents of Internet communications without going before a court and seeking approval.

I thought all this had the advantage of legislative oversight. So, um, why are we just hearing about this now?

That is a rhetorical question.

I thought Snowden’s claims sounded far-fetched, although I also acknowledged that I didn’t know for sure. They’re starting to sound more near-fetched, though, aren’t they?

UPDATE: Meanwhile, our hero Snowden continues to provide classified information about our alleged efforts against the Chinese to . . . the Chinese.

UPDATE x2: Looks like the interpretation of Nadler’s comments was off base. More here.

IRS Collecting Your Electronic Data While Most Senators Miss Briefing on Surveillance

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 2:42 pm

On Twitter, iowahawk notes a story from April that carries new significance in light of recent revelations:

The Internal Revenue Service is collecting a lot more than taxes this year — it’s also acquiring a huge volume of personal information on taxpayers’ digital activities, from eBay auctions to Facebook posts and, for the first time ever, credit card and e-payment transaction records, as it expands its search for tax cheats to places it’s never gone before.

. . . .

“It’s well-known in the tax community, but not many people outside of it are aware of this big expansion of data and computer use,” says Edward Zelinsky, a tax law expert and professor at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law and Yale Law School. “I am sure people will be concerned about the use of personal information on databases in government, and those concerns are well-taken. It’s appropriate to watch it carefully. There should be safeguards.” He adds that taxpayers should know that whatever people do and say electronically can and will be used against them in IRS enforcement.

. . . .

“Private industry would be envious if they knew what our models are,” boasted Dean Silverman, the agency’s high-tech top gun who heads a group recruited from the private sector to update the IRS, in a comment reported in trade publications. The IRS did not respond to a request for an interview.

How extensive is this surveillance? You can rest easy, because of the judicial oversight! . . . by a court that denies fully .03% of all surveillance requests . . . and the legislative oversight! . . . that is, by the lawmakers who are in town to listen to the details:

Many senators elected to leave Washington early Thursday afternoon instead of attending a briefing with James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, Keith Alexander, the head of the National Security Agency (NSA), and other officials.

The Senate held its last vote of the week a little after noon on Thursday, and many lawmakers were eager to take advantage of the short day and head back to their home states for Father’s Day weekend.

Only 47 of 100 senators attended the 2:30 briefing, leaving dozens of chairs in the secure meeting room empty as Clapper, Alexander and other senior officials told lawmakers about classified programs to monitor millions of telephone calls and broad swaths of Internet activity.

By the way, I’m not sure I place the blame for this on the Senators. One wonders when the briefing was announced, and whether it was deliberately set for a day and time when the administration knew lawmakers had already scheduled their out-of-town trips.

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