Domestic Spying on Americans is an Epidemic

It's long been a problem out of control, but what in the world do domestic intelligence agencies do with all the surveillance data they hoard on all of us? There is no way it can all be sifted through very thoroughly, but that isn't stopping the government from wanting more data about us. In fact, the data collected by domestic intelligence spying surely qualifies as an e-hoarding epidemic.

John V. Parachini, director of the Intelligence Policy Center at the RAND Corp, told the Baltimore Sun that every six hours, the super-secret NSA stockpiles as much data as is stored in the entire Library of Congress!

What the NSA doesn't snarf up, the Department of Justice is hoping to get from mobile providers. CNET's Declan McCullagh reported that the DOJ has called for new laws which would require wireless providers to collect and store users' information. And the reason why? The better for law enforcement to fall back on in order to "identify a suspect's smartphone based on the IP addresses collected by Web sites that the suspect visited."

Sen. Franken said, "I believe that consumers have a fundamental right to know what data is being collected about them." But we don't know what all is collected by everyone, and then mined and offered up for sale to the highest bidder. Nor do we necessarily know if we have been targeted and our personal info is locked way in a monster database to be accessed at a future date. As if the government doesn't collect and hoard enough data on its citizens now, we've got our smart devices being used to spy on us whether we want them to or not.

Today at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on mobile privacy, Franken's asked if Apple location data actually stores data or not? Apple's vice president for software technology, Bud Tribble, said "the data stored is the location of as many Wi-Fi hot spots and cellphone towers as it can. That data does not actually contain any consumer information. When the database is downloaded to your phone, it knows which cell towers it can receive. The combination ... is how the phone figures out where it is without the GPS."

At that same mobile privacy hearing, Franken said, "I think people have the right to know who is getting their information and how information is shared and used. I still have serious doubts those rights are being respected in law or in practice." But as The Atlantic Wire reported, "the government is failing to protect your digital rights."

According to Secrecy News, the level of domestic intelligence spying activity jumped yet again in 2010. A new Justice Department report [PDF] to Congress on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act disclosed, that during 2010, the feds were crazy busy issuing National Security Letters which come with a gag order. This mean if you are targeted by domestic intelligence agencies with a NSL request, you would never know it. Of the 24,287 NSL requests made by the FBI in 2010, "14,212 different U.S. persons" were targeted.

CATO @ Liberty points out that this was a record number of Americans targeted by NSLs in 2010, showing a "truly stunning increase in the number of Americans whose sensitive phone, Internet, and banking records were obtained by the FBI - without judicial oversight - pursuant to National Security Letters." Not counting requests for "basic subscriber info," American's were targeted by 24,287 NSL requests, compared to 14,788 NSL requests in 2009.

Did you know that the FBI has a record of making NSL requests verbally, by e-mail, or via post-it notes? So even when it's found out to be massively breaking the law, there is retroactive surveillance immunity issued. This domestic spying and slurping of electronic data just seems to get worse, to increase, not decrease. What happens to privacy in the name of security is rarely ever a good thing.

Even if the FBI found no reason to investigate a person further, as surely there are not 24,287 American terrorist lurking around, "whatever data they obtained - lists of phone numbers, credit card purchases, financial transactions, e-mail correspondents, or IP addresses visited - are likely to remain in a massive government database indefinitely." As Julian Sanchez stated in the article, it's not about spying on terrorists, but about spying on innocent Americans.

E-hoarders of the world have been advised to delete the overload of pictures, emails, texts, or any digital data that is clogging up space on hard drives. Is this glut of data hoarding only considered okay if it is gathered for or by intelligence agencies?

Image credit: Jeff Kubina

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