The U.S. government is collecting far less phone records than it previously did, but the number still being collected is enough to alarm both 4th Amendment and privacy advocates. Obtained by the National Security Agency (NSA) in 2016 were 151 million records, via a new system put together by Congress replacing the secret bulk data collection program revealed by Edward Snowden in 2013.
Under the system previously used, the amount of records collected on a daily basis would regularly number in the hundreds of millions. A new report, published by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence reveals that the NSA is still collecting a significant amount of calling data — despite the mechanisms put in place to protect Americans' privacy.
Ever since the establishment of the USA Freedom Act telecommunications companies have only been required to turn over the records of people suspected to be involved in criminal or terrorist activities, and only after obtaining a court order. The U.S. government only obtained 42 such orders in 2016, accounting for the 151 million records previously mentioned.
While it sounds like a large number, you must consider they are counting years of telephone records for each suspect and that each individual call record, if processed between 2 telecommunication carriers, that call record is counted twice.
Interestingly enough, according to the report, the number of suspects whose e-mails were collected and read via warrantless surveillance was only one. This warrantless surveillance is allowable under amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).
Privacy advocates have sounded-off against the government’s ability to search the raw repository of private citizen’s emails. This practice, known as a "backdoor search loophole" in the 4th Amendment has been criticized by many who feel that a warrant should be obtained prior to the disclosure of phone or e-mail records.
The report also sheds light on how intelligence reports written by the National Security Agency protected Americans in instances of incidentally collected identifying information. Names are now redacted — unless they are necessary to have to understand foreign intelligence.
Potentially, we may have changes to the way this data is collected as the expiration of the last authorization of FISA is coming up at the end of this year. The law was originally written in 1978 and allows government spying on agents of foreign powers.
Specifically under criticism, within the FISA, is Section 702, which authorizes the National Security Agency to collect large volumes of U.S. companies’ telecommunications and Internet data; and analyze the communications linked to foreigners.
Defenders of civil liberties as well as privacy advocates have accused both the NSA and the FBI of abusing their powers under Section 702’s Internet program. It is code-named PRISM, to surreptitiously surveil innocent Americans.
On two previous occasions, the U.S. House of Representatives has passed amendments banning the NSA from searching the Section 702 database for information on Americans. However, those amendments were taken out of the bills as they passed through the U.S. Senate.
Even with constitutional protections, Americans phone records can still be obtained without a warrant. FBI agents can use the evidence they obtain, although they must notify defendants that the evidence against them includes information gathered warrantlessly.
Post 9-11 America will collectively make the decision again by year's end to either trample on the 4th Amendment in the name of security, or fight against what many consider heavy-handed and unconstitutional investigative methods.
Julio Rivera is an entrepreneur, small business consultant and political activist. He contributes to RightWingNews.com and NewsNinja2012.com, and had previously covered boxing and baseball for the now defunct "The Urban News" in his native Paterson, N.J. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.