Surveillance of Citizens and Visitors in the US


NSA stands for the National Security Agency. It was originally formed under President Harry
Truman in 1952 during World War II. This agency is responsible for collecting
and monitoring data and the people connected to it The agency works to protect the United States
against any threat, foreign and domestic, by utilizing the data they observe. The NSA joins with the CIA to maintain a physical
presence in various countries around the world. According to their website, the NSA receives
guidance from the Nation’s experts in a variety of technical fields through the National Security
Agency Advisory Board (NSAAB), which has been in existence since 1953. In 2005, the NSAAB no longer had to follow
the FACA, the Federal Advisory Committee Act, which allowed for open meetings, public involvement,
and reporting on their end. The National Security Agency of Emerging Technologies
Panel, another name for the NSAAB, occasionally monitors and advises the NSA director, and
is not bound by the FACA. Since the 1940’s, the NSA has been collecting
telephone information internationally, and from that process they received information
on Americans despite them having no connection to foreign targets. This is one of the reasons Congress passed
the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) which placed limits on how agencies
could collect information. In 2001, the Patriot Act gave government officials
the ability to gain access to any business or personal records without having to prove
the target is a foreign power, they only must claim the target is a part of an investigation
to protect against “terrorism or clandestine intelligence.” Then in 2008, Congress added Section 702 to
FISA, which allows the government to obtain intelligence about non-US citizens they believe
are abroad, without a court order. This also allows them to obtain any information
about US citizens that are “unintentionally” targeted. These make the collection of information on
American citizens and visitors extremely easy for the NSA to access. Edward Snowden was a former CIA agent and
contractor for the United States government. He worked in various roles in the US Intelligence
Community including an undercover role for the CIA overseas. Although, his primary role was as an infrastructure
analyst at the NSA. On June 5th, 2013 The Guardian released secret
documents that Snowden had stolen from the NSA during his time working there. The documents he revealed to the public about
the NSA introduces the mass surveillance programs and capabilities of the NSA that have been
operating without public oversight and outside the limits of the US Constitution. Why did he leak NSA intelligence to the public? He famously states in the documentary, CitizenFour:
“I don’t want to live in a world where everything I do, everyone I talk to, every
expression of creativity and love or friendship is recorded.” Today, Snowden lives in exile in Moscow, Russia
since the 2013 leaks. (1974) The Privacy Act provides protection
of an individual’s personal information that is collected by government agencies and
says that all information must be collected legally and will be “maintained in a manner
which precludes unwarranted intrusions upon individual privacy” (1978) FISA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance
Act, established procedures allowing the collection of foreign intelligence by ways such as electronic
surveillance, trap and trace devices, physical searches, and business records. (2001) The Patriot Act was passed to improve
the government’s ability to detect and prevent terrorist attacks in the US. It allows government officials to track communication
with less regulation and this makes it less likely to alert those suspected of terrorism. (2008) Section 702 allows government agencies
to collect information about foreigners like their emails, texts, and phone calls from
communication companies without warrant. This allows them to collect information about
US citizens if they are communicating with the targeted foreigner. In January of 2018, Congress approved the
renewal of Section 702 to go until 2023. Due to the Snowden leaks, the US Congress
felt pressure from the public to pass the Freedom Act in 2015, to end the mass collection
of millions of Americans’ phone data. This was one of the country’s most significant
surveillance reforms since 1978. This act specifically bans the bulk collection
of data of Americans’ telephone records and Internet metadata, and limits the government’s
data collection to the “greatest extent reasonably practical” – which means the
government cannot collect all data pertaining to particular service provider or broad geographic
region, such as a city or area code. The act also specifies what the Government
can survey. Namely, collecting up to two hops of surveillance
on a target, which we will learn more about momentarily. It also outlines new reporting requirements
to FISA – the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. This organization oversees requests for surveillance
against foreign spies inside the United States using federal law enforcements and intelligence
agencies. Such requests are made most often by the NSA
(National Security Agency). In 2013, a former NSA contractor, Edward Snowden,
leaked classified information about the NSA. His evidence showed that the NSA tracked and
monitored US citizens through metadata in cell phones. An example of how the NSA gathers data on
a target is through hops. The process is composed of three hops. Imagine a scenario where the NSA is looking
into a bad guy in Italy. They go through their metadata to find all
the contacts that the target has, which could be friends, relatives, and acquaintances. That’s the first hop. The second hop focuses on the target’s friend’s,
relative’s, and acquaintance’s metadata, which could also include their friends, relatives,
and acquaintances. Then the third hop branches off from those
people’s metadata and goes through to find their friends, relatives, and acquaintances. After all of hops, there are usually millions
of people involved in this search. If the target had only one contact, then by
hop three there would be approximately 26,000 people involved. If they had 40 contacts in their phone, the
third hop would have approximately 2.5 million people. The Snowden leaks shed light on some of the
software the NSA uses. One of these programs called XKeyScore, acts
as a search interface for internet. An analyst can search through most of the
tasks of a typical user. The program is designed to search through
data of suspected terrorists. The software’s capabilities include looking
through email databases, browsing history, instant messaging, and metadata. In a video posted by The Guardian, Edward
Snowden said, “I, sitting at my desk, could wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant,
to a federal judge or even the president, if I had a personal email.” Expectedly, many US officials denied these
claims. This relates to topics in class because we
have recently learned how easy it is to collect information without the target’s knowledge. For example, the NSA could connect to an unsecure
network and collect all emails you send and receive, without your knowledge or permission,
while at the same time not doing anything illegal. It was a welcomed change when they put me on terrorism watch duty. Everyday, I go in and I get starting points for singing which was signals intelligence. A lot of them were American. Which felt strange, but you just keep reminding yourself I could stop a dirty bomb attack and save thousands of lives. Thing is, you’re not just following your bad guy targets. You’re also following their metadata Which is basically all phone numbers that they are in touch with. Lets say your target is shady Iranian banker operating out of Beirut okay so you’re watching his stuff You’re also watching all of the people that he talks to Including, you know, his cousin whose just some dentist living in Buffalo and then you have to watch all of that guy’s contacts. and by the time you go a third hop out from the original target, you’re watching this bartender chat with her mother about botox cause three hops from anyone with say 40 contacts, you’re looking at a list of 2.5 millions people and there’s that moment when you’re sitting there and the scale that hits you the NSA is really tracking every cell phone in the world. No matter who you are everyday of your life you’re sitting in a database just ready to be looked at. and not just terrorists or countries or corporations but you. To search, the US law requires that the NSA
acquire a FISA warrant if the target is a US person. However, the FISA warrant is not required
if the US person is in contact with a suspected or known terrorist. FISA or sometimes called FISC stands for Foreign
Intelligence Surveillance Act or Courts. The FISC website states, “The Foreign Intelligence
Surveillance Court was established by Congress in 1978. The Court entertains applications made by
the United States Government for approval of electronic surveillance, physical search,
and certain other forms of investigative actions for foreign intelligence purposes.” Other programs include GUMFISH, which is malware
that takes control over a webcam and snaps pictures on set time intervals. CAPTIVATEDAUDIENCE is a malware program that
takes control over the computer’s microphone. Other forms of malware are special keyloggers
and custom programs used to extract data from various types of infected machines.

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