NSA Expands Mass Surveillance to Triple Its Collection of U.S. Phone Records

Mass surveillance is damaging to privacy generally and ineffective at preventing stateless terror attacks — its main effect is to increase repressive control.

The National Security Agency (NSA) collected over 530 million phone records of Americans in 2017—that’s three times the amount the spy agency sucked up in 2016.

The figures were released Friday in an annual report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI).

It shows that the number of “call detail records” the agency collected from telecommunications providers during Trump’s first year in office was 534 million, compared to 151 million the year prior.

“The intelligence community’s transparency has yet to extend to explaining dramatic increases in their collection,” said Robyn Greene, policy counsel at the Open Technology Institute.

The content of the calls itself is not collected but so-called “metadata,” which, as Gizmodo notes, “is supposedly anonymous, but it can easily be used to identify an individual. The information can also be paired with other publicly available information from social media and other sources to paint a surprisingly detailed picture of a person’s life.”

The report also revealed that the agency, using its controversial Section 702 authority, increased the number of foreign targets of warrantless surveillance. It was 129,080 in 2017 compared to 106,469 in 2016.

As digital rights group EFF noted earlier this year,

Under Section 702, the NSA collects billions of communications, including those belonging to innocent Americans who are not actually targeted. These communications are then placed in databases that other intelligence and law enforcement agencies can access—for purposes unrelated to national security—without a warrant or any judicial review.

“Overall,” Jake Laperruque, senior counsel at the Project On Government Oversight, said to ZDNet, “the numbers show that the scale of warrantless surveillance is growing at a significant rate, but ODNI still won’t tell Americans how much it affects them.”

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U.S. Federal Government Set to Further Expand Mass Surveillance

It’s striking that the same congressional Democrats who verbally denounce the current president as a tyrant then vote to grant the executive branch extremely unjust surveillance authority. U.S. citizens, I encourage you to call the Senate and tell them to vote no on this mass surveillance bill. The Capitol Switchboard number is (202) 804-3305.

With the Senate set to cast its first votes on a bill that reauthorizes and expands the government’s already vast warrantless spying program in a matter of hours, civil libertarians on Tuesday launched a last-ditch effort to rally opposition to the legislation and demand that lawmakers protect Americans’ constitutional right to privacy.

Fight for the Future (FTF), one of many advocacy groups pressuring lawmakers to stop the mass surveillance bill in its tracks, notes that “just 41 senators can stop” the bill from passing.

“In the age of federal misconduct, every member of Congress must move right now to stop the government’s abuse of the internet to monitor everyone; they must safeguard our freedom and the U.S. Constitution,” FTF urged.

The FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act of 2017 (S.139)—passed by the House last week with the revealing but not surprising help of 65 Democrats—would renew Section 702 of FISA, set to expire this Friday.

As The Intercept‘s Glenn Greenwald notes, “numerous Senate Democrats are poised” to join their House colleagues in voting to re-up Section 702, thus violating “the privacy rights of everyone in the United States” and handing President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions sprawling spying powers.

The Senate’s first procedural vote on a cloture motion is expected at 5:30pm ET. If the motion is approved, the path will be clear for the bill to hit the Senate floor.

“Every member of Congress is going to have to decide whether to protect Americans’ privacy, and shield vulnerable communities from unconstitutional targeting, or to leave unconstitutional spying authority in Trump’s—and Jeff Sessions’—hands,” the advocacy group Indivisible notes.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security to Begin Collecting Social Media Info on All Immigrants October 18th

This widespread government collection of social media information — without individual warrants — is a measure of authoritarianism, and it may cause other countries to increase their unjust collection policies too. Once this data is collected, it could be used against vulnerable members of society to bring considerable harm to them. Other more privileged citizens are also at some risk, however, as their communications with immigrants through social media will also be collected.

The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is expanding the kinds of information that it collects on immigrants to include social media information and search results. The new policy, which covers immigrants who have obtained a green card and even naturalized citizens, will take effect on October 18th.

First spotted by Buzzfeed News, the announcement from the Trump regime was published in the Federal Register. The new policy will not only allow DHS to collect information about an immigrant’s Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook accounts, but it also mentions all “search results.” It’s not immediately clear if that means the agency will have access to things such as Google search histories nor is it clear how that would be obtained.

The new policy includes 12 points of expansion on what DHS is allowed to collect, but numbers 5 and 11 seem to be the most alarming in their ability to reach inside the digital lives of immigrants to the US and anyone who interacts with those immigrants.

[…]

(11) update record source categories to include publicly available information obtained from the internet, public records, public institutions, interviewees, commercial data providers, and information obtained and disclosed pursuant to information sharing agreements;

The term “information sharing agreements” isn’t defined in the policy, but it could conceivably cover both the types of surveillance agreements that the US has with countries like the UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand under Five Eyes, as well as the agreements that DHS has with companies like Google and internet service providers.

New Documents Reveal the NSA Built a Secretive Surveillance Network for Ethiopia

The NSA assisted the government of Ethiopia in using mass surveillance against its citizens, which means that it’s another incident of the NSA partaking in human rights abuses.

In exchange for local knowledge and an advantageous location, the NSA provided the East African nation with technology and training integral to electronic surveillance. “Ethiopia’s position provides the partnership unique access to the targets,” a commander of the U.S. spying operation wrote in a classified 2005 report. (The report is one of 294 internal NSA newsletters released today by The Intercept.)

The NSA’s collaboration with Ethiopia is high risk, placing the agency in controversial territory. For more than a decade, Ethiopia has been engaged in a fight against Islamist militant groups, such as Al Qaeda and Shabab. But the country’s security forces have taken a draconian approach to countering the threat posed by jihadis and stand accused of routinely torturing suspects and abusing terrorism powers to target political dissidents.

“The Ethiopian government uses surveillance not only to fight terrorism and crime, but as a key tactic in its abusive efforts to silence dissenting voices in-country,” says Felix Horne, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch. “Essentially anyone that opposes or expresses dissent against the government is considered to be an ‘anti-peace element’ or a ‘terrorist.’”

[…]

The NSA refused to comment on whether Lion’s Pride continues to eavesdrop on the region, but no evidence suggests it was ever shut down. There is, however, good reason to believe that U.S. efforts have strengthened the hand of the Ethiopian government. And a decade and a half after it was launched, Ethiopia’s human rights record remains as dismal as ever.

“Governments that provide Ethiopia with surveillance capabilities that are being used to suppress lawful expressions of dissent risk complicity in abuses,” says Horne. “The United States should come clean about its role in surveillance in the Horn of Africa and should have policies in place to ensure Ethiopia is not using information gleaned from surveillance to crack down on legitimate expressions of dissent inside Ethiopia.”

Der Spiegel Interview of Ed Snowden

It’s a good interview with Snowden, who should take time to discuss Section 702 of the FISA Act within the next few months.

DER SPIEGEL: What did you achieve?

Snowden: Since summer 2013, the public has known what was until then forbidden knowledge. That the U.S. government can get everything out of your Gmail account and they don’t even need a warrant to do it if you are not an American but, say, a German. You are not allowed to discriminate between your citizens and other peoples’ citizens when we are talking about the balance of basic rights. But increasingly more countries, not only the U.S., are doing this. I wanted to give the public a chance to decide where the line should be.

[…]

DER SPIEGEL: We hear a lot of resignation.

Snowden: Not at all. I think we have made much progress as a society — we are using math and science to limit these abuses by governments.

DER SPIEGEL: You are talking about the encryption of our communications.

Snowden: Before he retired, former U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said that I had accelerated the adoption of an encryption by seven years. He meant it as an insult, but I took it as a kind of a compliment.

[…]

DER SPIEGEL: The files you leaked are a few years old now, as are the measures they described. Do they have anything more than historical value today?

Snowden: The system is pretty much the same. It’s only if you understand the basic mechanism that is being exploited to spy on innocent people that you can start to correct it. So, the challenge is what comes next and how to deal with this.

DER SPIEGEL: And? What comes next?

Snowden: Governments are realizing that mass surveillance isn’t really effective. They are moving from mass surveillance to what intelligence agencies are hoping will be their new panacea: hacking. But it is mass hacking and not really targeted hacking as they usually say. We have seen it in these darknet market takedowns and other joint operations by the EU and U.S.

[…]

DER SPIEGEL: Nevertheless, many people, also here in Germany, have wondered what kind of concessions you had to make to become Russia’s guest.

Snowden: I’m glad you ask because again, this sounds right, he is in Russia, so surely he had to give something up, right? But when you start looking at it, it falls apart. I don’t have any documents or access to documents. The journalists have them and this is why the Chinese or the Russians couldn’t threaten me when I crossed the border. I couldn’t have helped them, even if they had torn my fingernails off.

DER SPIEGEL: It is still hard to believe for many that the Russians would let you in just like that.

Snowden: I know, you go: Putin that great humanitarian, of course he lets him in for free. Nobody believes that, there has got to be some deal, some quid pro quo. But they don’t understand. If you think about it for a second: I was trying to get into Latin America, but the U.S. government canceled my passport and trapped me in the Russian airport. The U.S. president was sending daily demarches to the Russian side demanding my extradition. Think about the Russian domestic political situation. Putin’s self-image, his image to the Russian people and how that would look if the Russian president would have said, “Yes, we are very sorry — here, have this guy.” And maybe there is an even simpler explanation for this, which is that the Russian government just enjoyed the rare opportunity of being able to say “no.” The real tragedy here is that I applied for asylum in Germany, France and 21 different countries around the world. And it was only after all of these countries said “no” that the Russians finally said “yes.” It seemed like they didn’t even want to say “yes,” and I certainly wasn’t asking.

[…]

The deep state is this class of career government officials that survive beyond administrations.

DER SPIEGEL: Isn’t that just another conspiracy theory?

Snowden: I wish it was. Look at the election of Barack Obama, who by any measure at the time, people saw as a genuine man who wanted to pursue a reform to close Guantanamo, to end the mass surveillance of the time, to investigate Bush-era crimes and to do many other things. And within 100 days of taking office, he pivoted entirely on that promise and said, we are going to look forward not backward. The deep state realizes that while it may not elect the president, it can shape them very quickly — and this is through the same means with which they shape us.

DER SPIEGEL: Which means?

Snowden: Fear. Why do you think all these terrorism laws are passed without any meaningful debate? Why do we have an indefinite state of emergency, even in liberal places like France?