Ever since Edward Snowden blew the whistle on the National Security Agency’s massive domestic spying apparatus, Americans have been told that the government collects virtually all U.S. electronic communications for our own safety.
That assertion — which has since been disputed by security experts and two senators on the intelligence committee — also implies that we should totally trust the government, its employees, and its contractors having access to reams of private information about their fellow Americans.
“The real problem comes with trust,” NSA Whistleblower William Binney told USA Today. “It’s not just the trust that you have to have in the government. It’s the trust you have to have in the government employees, (that) they won’t go in the database — they can see if their wife is cheating with the neighbour or something like that.”
Here are few examples of what can happen when humans have access to massive databases of electronic data:
• In 2008 two former NSA analysts who worked at the NSA centre in Fort Gordon, Georgia told ABC they and their coworkers had listened in on the personal phone calls of soldiers stationed overseas.
“Hey, check this out,” one said he would be told, “there’s good phone sex or there’s some pillow talk, pull up this call, it’s really funny, go check it out. It would be some colonel making pillow talk and we would say, ‘Wow, this was crazy.'”
• NSA analyst Adrienne Kinne told ABC she listened to hundreds of private conversations between Americans, including many from the International Red Cross and Doctors without Borders.
• Michael Hayden, who was NSA director (1999 – 2005) when the first domestic spy programs began, corroborated Binney’s claim when he told The Daily Beast he remembered a collector who was fired for snooping on his ex-wife overseas.
• Tom Hays of The Associated Press reports there are “a batch of corruption cases in recent years against NYPD officers accused of abusing the FBI-operated National Crime Information centre database to cyber snoop on co-workers, tip off drug dealers, stage robberies and — most notoriously — scheme to abduct and eat women.”
The National Crime Information centre (NCIC) database, which is maintained by the FBI and provides 9 million data points every day, can be accessed by 90,000 law enforcement agencies across the country.
Hays notes: “How often the database is used for unauthorised purposes is unclear.”
In response to the AP report, Timothy B. Lee of The Washington Post writes: “These stories illustrate some of the kinds of misconduct that could occur with the NSA’s database of the nation’s phone calls.”
Here’s what Jonathon Turley, a constitutional law professor at George Washington University who has testified before Congress on the country’s warrantless surveillance program, told ABC in 2008 after hearing the analysts’ claims (emphasis ours): “This story is to surveillance law what Abu Ghraib was to prison law.”
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