The White House has resolutely defended warrantless eavesdropping, saying that we are at war and clandestine surveillance helps to protect us. in a speech at Kansas State University, President Bush explained, What I'm talking about is the intercept of certain communications emanating between somebody inside the United States and outside the United States; and one of the numbers would be reasonably suspected to be an al Qaeda link or affiliate. In other words, we have ways to determine whether or not someone can be an al Qaeda affiliate or al Qaeda. And if they're making a phone call in the United States, it seems like to me we want to know why.
Later the same day, the Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales, appeared on The PBS News Hour. Asked why the Administration didnt honor FISA, which requires a special court to authorize eavesdropping, Gonzales responded, For operational reasons, there were some issues that made it difficult to use FISA.
The Attorney General wouldnt elaborate, but others have suggested operational reasons why the Bush Administration isnt using FISA to obtain a warrant. One would be that the sending or receiving telephone number was obtained using torture or that the informant is held in violation of US law. However, most civil-rights activists believe that the tapped phone number resulted from a gigantic fishing expedition, so called data mining, that the courts would not approve of.
In addition to phone traffic, the NSA computers have access to all my personal and financial data. Alerted by my call, their software scans my digital records and finds that I recently made a contribution, by means of my Visa card, to an organization in Pakistan they dont care that it was for humanitarian assistance to earthquake refugees. At this point, the NSA computers flag me as a possible terrorist sympathizer; their software decision logic, their algorithm looks at my data and computes my threat score, like the FICO score assigned to determine credit worthiness. Because I have a threat score above a certain threshold, the NSA software makes an algorithmic decision to monitor my phone calls, read my email, and check my financial transactions. The NSA computer system goes fishing in my personal data. This is data mining; looking for patterns in massive amounts of data. In this case the NSA software is looking for actions phone calls, money transfers that indicate an al-Qaida supporter.
According to New York Times reporters Eric Lichtbau and James Risen the automated process that I have described, the decision to place Americans under digital surveillance has been made roughly 500 times per day, every day since 9/11. Hundreds of thousands of Americans have been caught in NSAs fishing net. This explains why the Bush Administration hasnt followed the FISA procedures; the NSA computer system is flagging many Americans as suspects and doing so without probable cause the FISA courts wouldnt permit this if they knew about it.
I am a computer-literate individual in a high-tech culture. As a result I leave a broad trail littered with digital breadcrumbs. The NSA bloodhounds gobble this up.
Of course, I dont know that Im under surveillance. Neither do the courts. Only the NSA computers know, and the Bush Administration - big brother is watching me.
Next time, is this legal?