At a recent judiciary hearing on the wide-ranging surveillance practices of the NSA revealed a staggering practice called “three-hop analysis.”
Three-hop analysis means that when the NSA requests justification for tapping a “suspected terrorist,” they can also tap that suspect’s contacts, then their contacts, and the contacts of their contacts.
Pete Yost of the Boston Globe explained the scope of these taps:
If the average person calls 40 unique people, three-hop analysis could allow the government to mine the records of 2.5 million Americans when investigating one suspected terrorist.
Theoretically, at that rate it would take tapping only about 150 suspected terrorists could cover the entire population of the United States.
When NSA Deputy Director John C. Inglis tried to justify the practice of gathering all communications of people three-degrees separated from the suspect at the hearing, Representative Randy Forbes, a Republican from Virginia, interrupted him.
”I said I wasn’t going to yell at you and I’m going to try not to. [The bulk collection] is exactly what the American people are worried about. That’s what’s infuriating the American people. They’re understanding that if you collect that amount of data, people can get access to it in ways that can harm them.”
Furthermore, two major senators, Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Mark Udall (D-Colo.), question the effectiveness of the NSA’s bulk collection programs and assert that claims made by intelligence officials “should not simply be accepted at face value.”
Such Bulk collection goes farther than just “terrorists.” The New York Times notes it’s also people suspected of “nuclear proliferation, espionage, and cyber attacks” that attract requests from the NSA.
The cyber attack category is the most troubling since hackers can disguise themselves as other IP addresses, essentially using someone else’s computer to launch attacks. That puts several unsuspecting Americans in line for NSA wiretapping.
Recently, a judge ruling on a suit by the American Civil Liberties Union paved the way for the NSA to possibly skirt any lawsuits over inadvertent tapping of innocent Americans’ communications. The Obama administration responded today to the suit and the House Judiciary Committee’s hearing with a statement from Robert S. Litt, general counsel for the director of national intelligence.
“They are authorised by Congress and are carefully overseen by the Congressional intelligence and judiciary committees,” Litt said. “They are conducted with the approval of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and under its supervision. And they are subject to extensive, court-ordered oversight by the Executive Branch.”
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court’s rulings are totally secret, overseen only by the highest members of Obama’s cabinet and the president himself. And the claim about judiciary committee oversight seems a bit overstated as well.
Yet Rep. Ted Poe, who has a seat on the Judiciary Committee, disputed such a claim.
”Snowden, I don’t like him at all, but we would never have known what happened if he hadn’t told us,” he said.
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