The recent revelation that the NSA has plans to share intercepted private communications with other domestic intelligence agencies has caused a massive backlash, with many viewing the shift as “unconstitutional.” Two experts join Radio Sputnik’s Brian Becker to discuss if the policy is just a “giant fishing expedition for law enforcement.”
The agency’s plan circumvented the US Congress and was revealed in a New York Times report last month. In response, a number of US lawmakers wrote a letter to the NSA director to express their concerns.Speaking to Loud & Clear host Brian Becker, Bryan Ford, a professor at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, stresses that the legislative branch should not be left in the dark about any government policies.
“We shouldn’t be finding out about what’s happening with the NSA form the New York Times,” Declan McCullagh, a technology journalist, adds. “It’s the Authority Oversight Committee. They should be finding it from the NSA itself. There is a failure of Democratic enforcement here.”
The NSA’s plans to turn over private wiretaps to agencies like the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) or FBI without any warrants marks a major assault on constitutional privacy rights, McCullagh says.
“It’s a huge transformation of the Fourth Amendment,” he says. “They [intelligence agencies] don’t think when they collect massive amounts of data. They don’t consider this searching [before getting warrants] unless someone goes and looks at it. This is an insane interpretation of what’s actually going on.”
Ford adds that the “ongoing reduction” of the Fourth Amendment is just another step toward establishing a surveillance state.Another instance that proves the trend, he says, is a fierce struggle between the FBI and Apple over the encryption of iPhones. The agency demanded that the tech giant open access to the company’s encrypted phone in order to obtain data on terrorists linked to the San Bernardino shooting.
“It was the iPhone that allowed the FBI to play the terrorism card as a test case in an attempt to use courts to get what they couldn’t get using Congress,” Ford says, adding that the agency was using an emotionally charged case to gain support from ordinary Americans.
McCullagh says that the FBI’s attempts to set a precedent with Apple could have opened a Pandora’s Box.
“The real issue is not the phone, but the fact that once this backdoor process is in place, all the other agencies, including the local agencies, will want to use the same backdoor, depending on the way you look at it.” McCullagh stressed. “Other countries around the world will be demanding from Apple to do the same things. It basically begins the race to the bottom of insecurity for everyone.”
The FBI faced significant opposition from not only Apple, but the general public as well. According to Ford, many ordinary people were concerned about their own personal information ending up in the hands of law enforcement.Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who revealed the extent of the US government’s domestic surveillance apparatus in 2013, opened the eyes of many people to the issues surrounding surveillance.
“It wasn’t until then, when [Snowden] got every ordinary person to understand what was going on, and what tremendous shift the intelligence community – especially the NSA — had made for its original purpose to surveil foreign targets,” McCullagh says.
McCullagh explains that the ongoing process in the US has its roots in the Cold War era. After the collapse of the USSR, many American organizations formerly engaged in military affairs began constructing domestic surveillance infrastructure.This is why the US is waging a war against whistleblowers including Snowden and Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks. Assange has been forced to remain within the Ecuadorian Embassy in London to avoid US extradition.
“They made a tremendous contribution in terms of revealing some important things to public, such as abuses in the Iraq War, and many other things,” he said. “There’s an important and legitimate debate about the Wikileaks’ method of actually leaking everything. That doesn’t diminish the importance or value of what they did.”