The NSA's Big Brother Program

Dennis Faas's picture

A startling report from The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) recently revealed details on what appears to be a domestic-spying program that was banned by Congress in 2003 known as the 'Total Information Awareness' (TIA) program.

As noted by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Orwellian program was shut down by Congress because it represented a massive and unjustified governmental intrusion into the personal lives of citizens.

Despite the fact that Congress shut down the program, security agencies under the Bush administration pushed ahead anyway. The National Security Agency (NSA) has been engaging in broad-based data-mining that violates the privacy of every American for several years.

A Mammoth Data-Mining Program

The TIA was involved programming computers to trawl through an extensive list of databases containing personal information about Americans -- including communications, medical, travel, education and financial data -- in an attempt to detect supposedly "suspicious" patterns.

Congress shut down the program due to objections that it was the most far-reaching domestic surveillance program ever offered.

Barry Steinhardt, Director of the ACLU's Technology and Liberty Project, said "year after year, we have warned that our great nation is turning into a surveillance society where our every move is tracked and monitored. Now we have before us a program that appears to do that very thing. It brings together numerous programs and it confirms what the ACLU has been saying the NSA is up to: mass surveillance of Americans."

The WSJ report says the NSA was engaging in broad domestic spying operations that involve collecting and analyzing the personal information of Americans in ways that are "essentially the same" as the TIA program.

Elements that reportedly make up the new spying include:

  • TIA and other data-mining programs.
  • The NSA's illegal wiretapping program, the so-called Terrorist Surveillance Program (TSP).
  • The Patriot Act's broadening of FBI power to collect third-party personal information without a subpoena through Section 215 searches and National Security Letters.
  • The Treasury Department's expanded surveillance of financial transactions through Cash Transaction Reporting and Suspicious Activity Reporting.
  • The CIA's illegitimate access to the SWIFT database to monitor international financial transactions.
  • DHS's efforts to increase monitoring of airline passenger data.
  • Partnerships between these government agencies and private sector entities to collect and monitor customers' data and transactions.
  • The erosion of privacy through the judicial creation of a distinction between content and "transactional data" (such as the recipients of emails or phone calls and the times and dates of each communication) through the Patriot Act and prior developments.

A 2006 report from the ACLU titled "Eavesdropping 101" warns that the NSA was carrying out broader data dragnets that violated the privacy of millions of Americans. More information about the NSA spying from the ACLU can be found from here and more information about TIA can be found here.

When the NSA was conceived, it was designed to spy on foreign governments, not Americans. Consequences of the privacy and rights violations from an out-of-control presidential administration with no oversight can have profound effects, given the fact that the government can and will do whatever it decides it wants to and use the data any way they see fit.

A few times in the past I've written about and questioned the NSA's involvement in the development of Microsoft Windows. More information about the illicit activities of the NSA and the Bush administration can also be found in my blog.

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