Nine Dashed-Off Points on the NSA “Scandal”

Ugh, the NSA “scan­dal” is already hurt­ing my brain. The stu­pid burns! So here’s what you need to know about it:

1. Con­gress voted to legal­ize expan­sive sur­veil­lance pow­ers in 2001 (The USA PATRIOT ACT), 2008 (retroac­tive immu­nity for warant­less NSA wire­taps in the FISA Amend­ments Act), and in 2012 (renew­ing the FISA Amend­ments Act).

2. Con­gress declined to force admin­is­tra­tion transparency/honesty on secret inter­pre­ta­tions of the law in 2001 (USA PATRIOT ACT), 2008 (NSA immu­nity), 2011 (the Wyden amend­ment to the NDAA, which would have required inter­pre­ta­tions not be secret) & 2012 (the sim­i­lar Markley amend­ment to the NDAA). Those last two actu­ally got voted down, which means Con­gress voted to enable secret gov­ern­ment legal interpretation.

3. All of the oppro­brium you should feel at the government’s ridicu­lously broad sur­veil­lance pow­ers needs to be directed at CONGRESS, which keeps approv­ing them while vot­ing they stay secret.

4. The NSA, despite the broad nature of its war­rant request, did noth­ing ille­gal, and the sup­posed ille­gal­ity of the FISC pro­ce­dure has not been demonstrated.

5. The infor­ma­tion the NSA is col­lect­ing is meta­data, not con­tent (like a wire­tap), and not account names. Uncov­er­ing per­son­ally iden­ti­fi­able infor­ma­tion would require sep­a­rate war­rants to do so. This was a pat­tern analy­sis, not really mass sur­veil­lance as we tra­di­tion­ally under­stand it. Any­one who calls this a “wire­tap” is prob­a­bly stu­pid or didn’t read the order.

6. Judg­ing by the order (and not the media cov­er­age about the order), it seems to have an end date of July 19, suck­ing up data for the three months before. That would make its effec­tive start date April 19, which is the day Dzhokhar Tsar­naev was arrested in Boston. Not say­ing there’s a link, but the tim­ing might turn out not to be coincidental.

7. No one will respond to this by vot­ing out their rep­re­sen­ta­tives or Sen­a­tors dur­ing the next elec­tion because, despite the tem­po­rary out­cry, Amer­i­cans (includ­ing the Con­gress­men and Sen­a­tors who tried to add amend­ments) don’t care about this very much.

8. None of you will stop vol­un­tar­ily giv­ing Ver­i­zon (or AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, etc.) your per­sonal infor­ma­tion out of the fear that they might be legally com­pelled to hand it over to an intel­li­gence agency through a legal process. Because, at the end of the day, you really don’t care about this very much either. At least, you don’t care enough to go out of your way to change it.

9. Tomor­row is going to be a very ugly day in the media and I’m really grate­ful I have meet­ings for most of it.