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NSA surveillance controversy: Much ado about nothing new?

Taylor Armerding | June 12, 2013
The only thing new about last week's "explosive" stories about telephone and Internet surveillance of American citizens by the National Security Agency (NSA) is that it made official what everybody has known, or should have known, for years.

The only thing new about last week's "explosive" stories about telephone and Internet surveillance of American citizens by the National Security Agency (NSA) is that it made official what everybody has known, or should have known, for years.

Word of increasing government surveillance of its citizens by electronic means has been reported for more than a decade.

Edward Snowden, who outed himself over the weekend as the principal source for stories about the surveillance in The Guardian and the Washington Post, is just the most recent.

Snowden, a former undercover CIA employee who now works for consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton, which contracts with the NSA, apparently leaked one set of documents showing an order from the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) to telecom provider Verizon to turn over all of its telephone data to the NSA on a daily basis. Another set showed that the NSA had access to the servers of nine major Internet providers, ranging from Google to Microsoft, Yahoo! Skype, Facebook, YouTube, AOL and Apple.

But long before Snowden, William Binney, who worked for the NSA for 32 years, resigned from the agency in protest in 2001 after the Bush administration launched a top-secret surveillance program to spy on U.S. citizens without warrants. It was code named Stellar Wind or just "The Program."

CSO reported last December that Binney had been saying for more than a decade that the NSA is collecting every electronic activity of its citizens — not just so-called "telephony metadata." In an interview late last year with RT, he estimated the number of electronic documents now being stored at "probably close to 20 trillion."

He said the scandal involving former CIA Director David Petraeus' extramarital affair offered evidence of that, since the FBI collected thousands of pages of emails from presumably private accounts, even though Petraeus had not been charged with a crime. "What probable cause did they have?" Binney asked. "There was no crime."

James Bamford, writing in Wired magazine, reported more than a year ago, on the construction of the NSA's new data center due to open this September in Bluffdale, Utah, south of Salt Lake City.

That center, which will be capable of storing almost unimaginable amounts of data, will be able to intercept, store and analyze, "all forms of communication, including the complete contents of private emails, cell phone calls, and Google searches, as well as all sorts of personal data trails —parking receipts, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases, and other digital 'pocket litter,'" Bamford wrote. And according to both Binney and now Snowden, the center will be collecting data from American citizens.

And once last week's stories broke, Democratic and Republican members of Congress who defended the surveillance, said it had been going on for the past seven years, beginning under the Bush administration and continuing (and expanding) under President Obama.

 

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