The precedent for the NSA gathering huge amounts of information from
cell phone metadata was set in the early years of the Afghanistan War, by a Navy SEAL and an NSA surveillance equipment operator, reports Dana Priest of The Washington Post.The SEAL — who was in the US, aiding the CIA’s drone program — was in contact with the NSA “collector” and was demanding location data on a suspected terrorist target, information that would normally take “weeks” to process under then-current operating procedure.
“We just want you to find the phone!” the SEAL urged, according to the Post, which interviewed someone with intimate knowledge of the operation.
Priest writes that no one cared for the “content” of the device, or any conversation, just the location of a specific phone number.
The CIA wanted the phone as a targeting beacon to kill its owner.
The NSA collector in Georgia took what was then considered a gigantic leap — from using the nation’s most sophisticated spy technology to record the words of presidents, kings and dictators to using it to kill a single man in a terrorist group.
A few years later, in 2005, a New York Times story detailed how those same surveillance practices on “suspected” individuals had grown in complexity and scope — allowing the NSA to track communications of millions of Americans.
The war and its surveillance practices had come back to America, from the Post:
The battlefield technology overseas was matched by a demand back in the United States for larger amounts of data to mine … Financial and biometric data, the movement of money overseas, and pattern and link analysis became standard NSA tools.
Which sounds a lot like what the Times wrote back then:
This so-called “pattern analysis” on calls within the United States would, in many circumstances, require a court warrant if the government wanted to trace who calls whom.
Furthermore, recent revelations show that the definition of potential threats to America is so broad, that just a one surveillance order on a single individual could net the information of 2.5 million Americans — based on something called “three-hop” analysis.
When the NSA requests justification for tapping a “suspected terrorist,” it can also legally tap that suspect’s contacts, then their contacts, and the contacts of their contacts.
The result is a cascade of information from people that may be only inadvertently related to the suspect — a kind of surveillance by association.
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