How Does NSA Data Mining Effect Our Privacy Online?
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How Does NSA Data Mining Effect Our Privacy Online?

Research Synthesis 

Alexandra Bollman's insight:

In this class, we started talking about privacy online from the very beginning. The first paragraph of John Perry Barlow’s “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace” states to the Governments of the Industrial World “On behalf of the future, I ask of you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather.” We have since spent the remainder of the semester incorporating issues of privacy into almost every subject matter. We are now well versed in the importance of online privacy. Then, not even a month later, the country was informed of the largest and most in-depth U.S./British intelligence data mining in these countries’ history.

 

I went into this project with an open mind. I did not know a great deal about what data was being collected and how they were doing it. I have since learned a great deal of disconcerting information. I have learned that the National Security Agency has been collecting information, basically since 9/11, in the name of national security. However, according to the articles, it has rarely directly helped stop any terrorist plots and they seem to be collecting a large amount of data the does not include foreign communications (which is the only legal way they could justify the collection).

 

The data collecting programs were revealed by an NSA contractor named Edward Snowden. He revealed to The Guardian some of the ways in which they were collecting data and how they decided whom they would get it from.  I also learned that Snowden was not the first to reveal this kind of program. USA Today reported in 2006 on the NSA’s surveillance of phone records and possible data mining initiative. At that point, no one knew the complete extent of the information collecting, but I was surprised that it was not as highly publicized.

 

I also discovered the differing opinions in Congress on this matter. General Keith B. Alexander, director of the NSA has been making the rounds defending this program and received two completely different welcomes. He was, for lack of a better term, completely grilled by the Senate Appropriations Committee and applauded by the House Intelligence Committee. In my research, I have found that this is one of the only things that have not completely divided Democrats and Republicans. There are both critics and supporters from both sides and that came as a shock to me.

 

I thought that when I researched and read these articles I would be confused as to where I stood in this debate. The NSA would like us to think that they have our safety in mind and that it is the only reason they are collecting this data. I, however, believe they are grossly overreaching for a legal justification. The fact that they can keep any records they feel could be significant at some time in the future makes me feel less safe. At this point, I do not feel that the ends justify the means and believe that this is a complete violation of our privacy online. 

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Susan Kelly's curator insight, July 2, 2013 11:33 AM

Does it or doesn't it? Are we just being paranoid?

Alexandra Bollman's comment, July 2, 2013 10:08 PM
I didn't like it at first, but now I feel like it's more than that. If you listen to the Senate Appropriations Committee hearing, it feels like they're on shaky ground legally with the warrantless wiretaps. I've been going back and forth with how I feel about potentially being monitored (I highly doubt that I am or would ever be) because I feel like they would be extremely bored with my emails. However, I am quite a private person so I do not like even the idea of people knowing what I do online.
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Edward Snowden: the whistleblower behind the NSA surveillance revelations

Edward Snowden: the whistleblower behind the NSA surveillance revelations | How Does NSA Data Mining Effect Our Privacy Online? | Scoop.it
The 29-year-old source behind the biggest intelligence leak in the NSA's history explains his motives, his uncertain future and why he never intended on hiding in the shadows
Alexandra Bollman's insight:

 

This is the first article that appeared with a name to put on this “leaked” information: Edward Snowden. The article had quite an impact on me specifically because of the video interview with Snowden. Even though this appeared June 9, 2013, I only watched it now because everyone had said everything they could about the man who has been called everything from a hero to a traitor. I have to say, the interview surprised me. I do not know why I got the impression from news reports that he was sort of a snob, but that is what I was expecting. He seems to genuinely have the country’s interest at heart.

 

That is pure speculation at this point seeing as this story was only broken three weeks ago. However, he does seem to be paying a great price for doing what he thinks is the right thing. He knows he will not be able to come back to America and does not even know how long he will be alive. He could not live with what he was seeing in his four years with the NSA and did not want to “wait for someone else to act”. 

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N.S.A. Chief Says Surveillance Has Stopped Dozens of Plots

N.S.A. Chief Says Surveillance Has Stopped Dozens of Plots | How Does NSA Data Mining Effect Our Privacy Online? | Scoop.it
Gen. Keith B. Alexander said on Tuesday that American surveillance had helped prevent “potential terrorist events over 50 times since 9/11.”
Alexandra Bollman's insight:

The focus of this article is the NSA’s defense of its surveillance program. On Tuesday, June 18, 2013 Gen. Keith B. Alexander testified at a House Intelligence Committee hearing about the recently declassified “potential terrorist events” that were thwarted due to US intelligence gathering known as PRISM. General Alexander testified that the program has help prevent 50 potential terrorist events since 9/11. In the hearing, General Alexander was asked how they could avoid keeping a database of all domestic calls while they are trying to pin point the suspicious number. He answered that they are mainly concerned with speed. 

 

This article threw my initial position slightly off. I know that is one of the ways the NSA justifies the data-collecting program: it helps keep us safe. However, they are citing specific examples of how certain plots were stopped using these programs. I guess I would have to know really the whole process before I form an opinion on their procedures (I do not see that happening any time soon). 

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4 Exchanges You Should Listen To About NSA Surveillance : NPR

4 Exchanges You Should Listen To About NSA Surveillance : NPR | How Does NSA Data Mining Effect Our Privacy Online? | Scoop.it
Members of the House Judiciary Committee grilled FBI Director Robert Mueller about the electronic surveillance of Americans. These are four highlights.
Alexandra Bollman's insight:

This article may seem from the headline that it is similar to the previous “Three Exchanges You Should Listen To About NSA Surveillance”. However, this was day two of the Senate Appropriations Committee hearing and it focuses on FBI Director Robert Mueller.

 

The most shocking exchange, to me, was between Mueller and Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner. Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which Sensenbrenner helped write, requires that any information gathered must be from foreigners who are the target of an authorized investigation. This doesn’t include US Citizens unless they are in contact with the people under investigation. He questions why these records are being collected them in the name of the Patriot Act if they do not fall into the requirements (not in contact with someone under investigation). Mueller has belief that all the information gathered has been ruled relevant by the US Justice Department and the FISA courts.

Sensenbrenner continued by saying there “really isn’t any way for anybody whose records are turned over to approach the FISA court or any other court because they don’t know about it to try to get the order quashed.” Mueller responds by saying that those records are not covered under the fourth amendment and the FISA courts have ruled that the collections are legal. 

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Snowden: NSA Collects 'Everything,' Including Content Of Emails : NPR

Snowden: NSA Collects 'Everything,' Including Content Of Emails : NPR | How Does NSA Data Mining Effect Our Privacy Online? | Scoop.it
Edward Snowden, who has taken credit for leaking classified information, said a huge amount of information about Americans is collected under the pretense of investigating foreigners.
Alexandra Bollman's insight:

This focuses on the live chat Snowden did with The Guardian. He revealed several things that were not in his initial interview. The first was something that was asked about in the Senate Appropriations Committee hearing: how is domestic communication getting mixed in with the “foreign correspondence” that they are really only supposed to be focusing on. Snowden said that if someone is communicating with another person outside of the United States, they collect that data as well and save it “for a very long time.”

 

Snowden was also asked several other important questions. The first was whether or not he stood by what he said about the NSA being able to wiretap anyone. He said he did (even though Gen. Alexander said he “knew no way of doing that”). During the chat, he was also asked if he was a spy for China and why he decided to do this. He denied being involved with China and said he had no contact with Chinese officials. As far as why he did it, he gave an answer that he also gave in his initial interview: he saw an injustice being perpetrated on the American people and he could not stand by and watch it anymore. 

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The NSA Guidelines for Spying on You Are Looser Than You've Been Told

The NSA Guidelines for Spying on You Are Looser Than You've Been Told | How Does NSA Data Mining Effect Our Privacy Online? | Scoop.it
On July 28, 2009, 189 days after Obama became president, Eric Holder presented a secret court with an outline for how the NSA and FBI would minimize collecting data from Americans.
Alexandra Bollman's insight:

This article gives a more in-depth look at the ways in which the NSA justifies the collection of data from domestic parties. It includes several questions that the NSA considers while collection the data such as “could this communication lead to information indicated that the target is located outside of the United States?” This article makes it even clearer that the standards for data collection are far too broad. They can investigate anyone who does not have foreign contacts if they simply believe that the information will lead them to someone who has foreign contacts. It seems as if, to me, they are reaching and this is, once again, justification to use any data they wish. 

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From the Archives: NSA Surveillance Seven Years Earlier

From the Archives: NSA Surveillance Seven Years Earlier | How Does NSA Data Mining Effect Our Privacy Online? | Scoop.it
Alexandra Bollman's insight:

When I began researching for this project, I knew very little about this topic. Much of what I have found in my research is information I had not heard before. However, this may be one of the most shocking things I have found. In 2006, USA Today published an article informing people about a collection of phone records starting immediately after 9/11. The NSA data collection, as revealed by Edward Snowden, should not have been a complete shock to us.

 

There are two NewsHour clips included in this article. In one of the clips Bryan Cunningham, a former lawyer for the National Security Council in the Bush administration and with the CIA during the Clinton years” said that in 1979, the US Supreme court stated Americans had no expectations to privacy in telephone toll records. From there, we can hear the same exact arguments we are hearing now: the NSA data mining is completely legal and is not covered under the fourth amendment. 

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U.S. charges Snowden with espionage

U.S. charges Snowden with espionage | How Does NSA Data Mining Effect Our Privacy Online? | Scoop.it
Hong Kong authorities are asked to arrest leaker of documents that revealed secret surveillance program.
Alexandra Bollman's insight:

This article leads us to where we are now. It was not surprising that Snowden was charged with espionage and “theft and conversion of government property”. Snowden stated in his interview with The Guardian what his expectations of how the government would act (this even included his death). I do not know if it is naïve to assume the government would not go that far, but I fully expected criminal charges. It has also been widely reported that Snowden has fled to Moscow and is possibly seeking protection in Ecuador. 

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U.S., British intelligence mining data from nine U.S. Internet companies in broad secret program

U.S., British intelligence mining data from nine U.S. Internet companies in broad secret program | How Does NSA Data Mining Effect Our Privacy Online? | Scoop.it
U.S. has access to the servers of nine Internet companies as part of top-secret effort.
Alexandra Bollman's insight:

This was one of the first reports that informed the United States about the data mining being carried out by U.S./British intelligence agencies. At this point, we did not know the name Edward Snowden. This article gives a thorough overview of the data that the program collects, how they collect it, and what companies are involved in the program. According to the “anonymous” NSA officer, the NSA was using the information from Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, and Apple to help track foreign targets. This program that started in 2007 now provides the information for “nearly 1 in 7 intelligence reports.”  Several of the companies deny their involvement in PRISM stating that above all else, they value their users’ privacy.

 

Reading this for the first time when it went out and reading it again now that we know more information were two different experiences. The first time I read this, I thought it was frightening. However, I did not really consider the total impact of this initial article until the story had time to develop. The part that I am confounded by is the way they justify it. I understand it is their job to say it a matter of national security. The thing that I do not like is when they say anyone’s information that is incidentally or accidentally collected does not need to be justified: it is legal. At this point, the system does not seem especially specific in their searches when they are using “key ‘selectors’” that are “designed to produce at least 51 percent confidence in a target’s ‘foreignness.’” I do not understand how that is supposed to make us feel better. 

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Obama defends top secret NSA data gathering of phone records, Internet traffic to US public

Obama defends top secret NSA data gathering of phone records, Internet traffic to US public | How Does NSA Data Mining Effect Our Privacy Online? | Scoop.it
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama defended top secret National Security Agency spying programs as legal in a lengthy interview Monday, and called them transparent — even though they are...
Alexandra Bollman's insight:

This article focuses on President Obama’s defense of the NSA data collecting claiming the program is “transparent”. In an interview with Charlie Rose, Obama explains that the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) courts were set up for that very reason: to keep the American public informed. However, The Post article states, “The location of FISA courts is secret. The sessions are closed. The orders that result from hearings in which only government lawyers are present are classified.” I do not see the transparency.

 

The rest of the article concentrates on the different reactions to Snowden’s revelation. Dick Chaney in an interview with Fox News called Snowden a traitor, to which Snowden replied, “Being called a traitor by Dick Cheney is the highest honor you can give an American…” He also responded to accusations of being a spy for China by asking why he wouldn’t have just flown directly into Beijing. In his initial interview, Snowden points out that people would be quick to call his a spy for a country we are “in conflict with”. That did not make sense to him as he says the United States is an ally of China and it would not make sense that he would be spying for them. He does make some compelling arguments and I personally think it might be a little early for anyone to label Snowden at this point. 

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Three Exchanges You Should Listen To About NSA Surveillance : NPR

Three Exchanges You Should Listen To About NSA Surveillance  : NPR | How Does NSA Data Mining Effect Our Privacy Online? | Scoop.it
The NSA Chief Gen. Keith Alexander answered questions from Senators. These are three important exchanges worth listening to.
Alexandra Bollman's insight:

This article synthesizes the Senate Appropriations Committee hearing held on June 12, 2013. The testimony from Gen. Keith B. Alexander focuses mainly on the data collection of Verizon wireless customers made over a three-month period.

The first exchange focuses on General Alexander’s claim that the attacks on September 11 could have been prevented had these practices been in place beforehand.

 

The next exchange was about the original request to collect the data from Verizon customers (questioned by Sen. Jeff Merkley). General Alexander did not feel completely confident answering that question and said he would come back the next day with more information or an explanation of why he could not get more information.

 

The final exchange was between Alexander and Sen. Susan Collins in which Collins asked if there was a factual base to Edward Snowden’s claims that the NSA could wiretap anyone (including President Obama). Alexander answered succinctly saying he “knew no way to do that.”

 

This article seemed important, even though its primary focus was on the phone data, because it showed the NSA having to answer for this data collecting. It was interesting to hear Alexander’s justifications. 

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Officials Amp Up Spying Defense

Officials Amp Up Spying Defense | How Does NSA Data Mining Effect Our Privacy Online? | Scoop.it
The NSA director mounted his most vigorous defense of data-surveillance programs, saying they helped thwart more than 50 terror plots and might have helped prevent the 9/11 attacks.
Alexandra Bollman's insight:

This article is short but important. It summarizes the National Security Agency’s defense during their testimony in front of the House Intelligence Committee. In contrast to the Senate Appropriations Committee hearing, Gen. Alexander was treated with a pat on the back. The article stated, “Critics of the agency's programs said the hearing failed to adequately probe them.”

 

To me, that seemed like an understatement. I did not understand why they needed to “mount a defense” if all they did was praise the NSA for their surveillance programs and criticize Edward Snowden. The House Intelligence Chairman, Mike Rogers, said the leaks “painted an ‘inaccurate picture’ and fostered ‘mistrust in government.’” My problem with this is that even if they did agree with the NSA’s policies, they should have been asking tougher questions before someone else does.

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What the NSA Does With the Data It Isn't Allowed to Keep

What the NSA Does With the Data It Isn't Allowed to Keep | How Does NSA Data Mining Effect Our Privacy Online? | Scoop.it
The rules surrounding what information must be destroyed remain shrouded in secrecy. By what right?
Alexandra Bollman's insight:

This is something I have wondered from the beginning: what does the NSA do with the information they are not allowed to have? The NSA has said from the start that they do collect a wide range of exchanges and sometimes that involves communication that does not fall under the standard of “51 percent foreignness”. 

 

The Guardian stated that the NSA was authorized by the FISA court to:

 

Keep data of US citizens (even if it is strictly domestic communications) for up to five years.

 

Make use of “inadvertently acquired” data if it contains “usable intelligence, information on criminal activity, threat of harm to people or property, are encrypted or are believed to contain any information relevant to cybersecurity.”

 

Keep “foreign intelligence information” that contains attorney-client communications.

 

I understand the principle of the “unringable bell”: once you see something, you cannot take it back. However, I believe this grossly violates the fourth amendment. Gen. Alexander stated in the Senate Appropriations Committee hearing that the communication between foreign and domestic parties was not covered under the Fourth Amendment. However, these are strictly domestic communications and basically a way to justify unlawful searches and seizures. 

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NPR: NSA Wiretapping: The Legal Debate

Alexandra Bollman's insight:

This is not an article as much as it is the breakdown of the legal aspects of the NSA data collection. It can get a little technical, but it is well worth the read because it reveals the policies that the Bush administration put into place after September 11th with the permission of Congress. However, the Congressional Research Service issued a report of how these policies directly conflicted with the laws in place in the United States (some of which are found in the US Constitution). 

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Google Lawsuit Challenges N.S.A. Domestic-Spying Apparatus

Google Lawsuit Challenges N.S.A. Domestic-Spying Apparatus | How Does NSA Data Mining Effect Our Privacy Online? | Scoop.it
Online version of the weekly magazine, with current articles, cartoons, blogs, audio, video, slide shows, an archive of articles and abstracts back to 1925
Alexandra Bollman's insight:

Google has filed a petition with the FISA court to be able to publish information about the court orders it receives citing their rights under the First Amendment. This, according to the article, has been widely criticized as a “face-saving maneuver” for Google. However, the author, John Cassidy, has applauded Google saying, “Google has made clear that this cooperation will no longer be unqualified.” I would have to agree with Cassidy. Google has a right to publish this information (even if it is to save their reputation) and the public has a right to know this information. 

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