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Tag: nsa


Remove some mystery from secret FISA court

This editorial will appear in Monday’s print edition.

The Obama administration is reportedly exploring ways to declassify some documents related to the controversial, secret FISA court.

That’s a welcome move, one that should cast light on the little-known work of the FISA judges charged with oversight responsibilities under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

The best outcome of declassifying the documents would be to help demystify the court, which was created by Congress in 1978 as a reaction to unauthorized domestic spying by the government in the 1960s and ’70s. Under FISA, a judge must approve a warrant for the

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Privacy and the NSA: Do you have anything to worry about?

Have the NSA surveillance revelations got you wondering whether your own privacy is being compromised? Or whether it should even matter, since you’re probably not a terrorist?

Privacy expert and law professor Daniel J. Solove has some thoughts on the subject. Here’s an article he wrote for The Washington Post.

5 myths about privacy

By Daniel J. Solove

The disclosure of two secret government surveillance programs — one involving phone records and the other personal data from Internet companies — has sparked debate about privacy and national security. Has the government gone too far? Or not far enough? How much privacy should we sacrifice for security? To discuss these issues productively, some myths must be dispelled.

1. The collection of phone numbers and other “metadata” isn’t much of a threat to privacy.

Don’t worry, argue defenders of these surveillance programs: The government is gathering innocuous data, not intimate secrets. “Nobody is listening to your telephone calls,” President Obama declared. Intelligence agencies are “looking at phone numbers and durations of calls; they are not looking at people’s names, and they’re not looking at content.” Read more »


Indefensible leaks and indefensible security lapses

This editorial will appear in Friday’s print edition.

Pfc. Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden are very different breeds of leakers, but they’re both examples of systemic security failures and personal arrogance.

The systemic part might be fixable. The people who review access to state secrets aren’t likely to be rubber-stamping security clearances for a while. Snowden and Manning — who is now being court-martialed — never would have gotten the information they spilled except for negligence on the part of their superiors.

Manning’s case is complex, but the detail that intersects national security is simple: An obviously troubled enlisted 22-year-old had easy access to staggering quantities of classified information at an Army base outside Baghdad, Iraq.

The Army’s information networks had to be spectacularly vulnerable.

Same deal with Snowden. A brilliant hacker working for the National Security Agency in Hawaii, he outfoxed the spooks who were supposed to spot even suspicious key strokes, and he tapped into documents supposedly restricted to only a few dozen NSA hierarchs.

If a low-ranking civilian contractor can get into the top-secret files of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, what might actual enemies of the United States be able to get into? These cases scream for radical restructurings of security practices in both the NSA and the Pentagon.

As for Manning and Snowden themselves, they are heroes only if one believes that it’s impossible to leak too much of America’s classified information.
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NSA data-spying has left the Constitution intact

This editorial will appear in Sunday’s print edition.

Hollywood sometimes portrays intelligence agencies as almost omniscient in their power to track Internet traffic. It turns out that Hollywood is sometimes right.

Libertarians of various stripes are raising a stink over last week’s revelations that the National Security Agency has routinely been tracking billions of phone calls – maybe most phone calls made in America and many other countries.

On top of that, the Washington Post reported that the NSA has been sifting through the central servers of Google, Microsoft, Facebook and other Internet giants, dredging up emails, chats, documents and other digital connections among unsuspecting people.

The libertarians are wrong on this one.

The details so far suggest that the digital surveillance has been limited, constitutional and supervised by all three branches of government. Not to mention effective at spotting terrorists.

Part of the stink is a matter of timing: A second-term-scandal narrative has begun gathering around President Obama.

His Justice Department stepped into dangerous territory when it swept legitimate journalists into criminal investigations.

It also looks as if Internal Revenue Service people – at some level – persistently singled out small-government advocates and other political opponents for special scrutiny during the president’s first term.

But the NSA business doesn’t belong in this story line.
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Eugene Robinson column updated to reflect NSA revelations

thompThe Eugene Robinson column that appeared in today’s paper didn’t reflect revelations about the National Security Agency’s PRISM program. That story broke too late Thursday for him to update the column for Friday. We decided to go with the column as is but switched out a cartoon that only touched on the Verizon angle for this one on cyber spying.

On Friday, the Washington Post moved this updated version of Robinson’s column to reflect President Obama’s comments and news of the previously undisclosed NSA program.

Here’s the revised column.


WASHINGTON – Someday, a young girl will look up into her father’s eyes and ask, “Daddy, what was privacy?”

The father probably won’t recall. I fear we’ve already forgotten that there was a time when a U.S. citizen’s telephone calls were nobody else’s business. A time when people would have been shocked and angered to learn that the government was compiling a detailed log of ostensibly private calls made and received by millions of Americans. Read more »