The curious collection of a slightly mad scientist
… Gen. Keith B. Alexander, the N.S.A. director, met with Democrats and Republicans to lobby against a proposed amendment to a military appropriations bill that would stop the financing for its phone data collection program. The Republican-sponsored legislation is one of the first Congressional efforts to curb the agency’s domestic spying efforts since they were leaked by Edward J. Snowden, a former N.S.A. contractor.Later on Tuesday, the White House issued a statement praising the idea of a debate about surveillance but denouncing “the current effort in the House to hastily dismantle” the call tracking program, urging lawmakers to vote down the legislation and instead conduct a “reasoned review of what tools can best secure the nation.”
“This blunt approach is not the product of an informed, open, or deliberative process,” the White House statement said.
General Alexander’s hurried visit to Capitol Hill came as a leading Senate critic of the N.S.A.’s large-scale collection of data about Americans’ phone calls spoke out about expansive government surveillance. He declared that recent leaks about domestic spying by Mr. Snowden have created a “unique moment in our constitutional history” to reform what he said has become “an always expanding, omnipresent surveillance state.”
Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, the leading Senate critic and a member of the Intelligence Committee, also hinted that the revelation that the government has been keeping records of every domestic phone call is not the only such extensive program. And he blasted national security officials in the Obama administration, saying they have “actively” misled the American public about domestic surveillance.
“As we have seen in recent days, the intelligence leadership is determined to hold on to this authority,” Mr. Wyden said. “Merging the ability to conduct surveillance that reveals every aspect of a person’s life with the ability to conjure up the legal authority to execute that surveillance, and finally, removing any accountable judicial oversight, creates the opportunity for unprecedented influence over our system of government.”
Mr. Wyden spoke at the Center for American Progress, a liberal research group. He had been among a handful of senators warning — years before Mr. Snowden’s leaks — that the government was secretly interpreting its powers under the Patriot Actin an alarming way.
Among other things, he suggested that the bulk collection of all domestic phone records is not the only such effort, saying Mr. Snowden’s disclosures meant the public was finally able to see “some” of what Mr. Wyden has been raising alarms about, and that the same legal theory has been deemed to authorize “secret surveillance programs” — plural — “that I and colleagues think go far beyond the intent of the statute.”
He did not explain what else was based on that legal interpretation, but complained that his hands were tied by classification rules. The Obama administration conducted an e-mail data collection program on the same scale as the phone program, but officials said it was ended in 2011.
Mr. Wyden said that the government’s theory of its power under the Patriot Act to collect records about people from third parties is “essentially limitless,” saying it could use that authority to gather in bulk medical, financial, credit card and gun-ownership records or lists of “readers of books and magazines deemed subversive.” He also dwelled on the potential for cellphones to serve as secret monitoring devices, saying everyone is carrying a “combination phone bug, listening device, location tracker and hidden camera.” …
I’ve been trying to prove this for years… Give them something interesting on video on your cell phone then packet capture. Even if the PRISM system takes the data from AT&T or Apple (both of which Snowden revealed are cooperating with the secret spying effort), the data has to leave your phone at some point. An AT&T tech finally admitted to me once that the direction of data (upload or download from/to your phone) is not correct on your bill and they actually have no way to tell if you are downloading a background update from Apple or if the contents of your phone were just collected by the NSA.
Your cell phone and computer cameras and microphones should be considered as always on. (Even if your phone seems to be powered off or in “Airplane mode?” Perhaps. It would not be impossible.) I recommend black electrical tape covering the cameras.