President Obama today addressed privacy concerns over NSA surveillance, proposing modest reforms in some areas and failing to address other important issues.
The Freedom of the Press Foundation, of which both Glenn Greenwald and Edward Snowden are board members, published an analysis of the speech, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation released a scorecard, reproduced below, evaluating Obama’s reform promises.
Two important points are prominent here. First, the Fourth Amendment protects citizens against unreasonable search and seizure. The mere collection of phone call metadata violates the Constitution, even if judicial approval is required to query it. Second, none of these reforms would even be considered if not for the information Edward Snowden released about NSA spying. He should be protected as a whistleblower, not threatened with prison.
Retroreport.org has produced an excellent short video, embedded above, telling the story of the March 8, 1971 burglary of FBI offices in Media, Pennsylvania that exposed the agency’s Cointelpro program. The identity of the activists was unknown until this week, when some of them stepped forward ahead of the release of a book about the burglaries.
Just as Edward Snowden’s 2013 leak of classified information about NSA surveillance contributed to the public debate about overreach by government spies, the Media burglars exposed an illegal surveillance program. Cointelpro, short for Counter Intelligence Program, was created to spy on civil rights leaders and other activists, but it went further. Among the revelations from the burglary was evidence that the FBI attempted to anonymously blackmail Martin Luther King, Jr. into committing suicide.
Then as now, the government attacked the whistleblowers, saying that they should have used legal methods to expose injustice. The problem with that argument is that in both the case of Cointelpro and the case of NSA mass surveillance, until activists took action, the public did not know it was happening.
Since the surveillance leaks initiated in June by National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden, it has become clear that, in the words of reporter Glenn Greenwald, “the goal of the NSA really is the elimination of privacy worldwide.” New reports continue to reveal the scope of the U.S. government’s secret surveillance system.
An article in Der Spiegel, a German newsmagazine, has now revealed details of an NSA unit known as the Office of Tailored Access Operations. The unit, based at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, defines its mission as “getting the ungettable” intelligence.
Among the NSA unit’s methods is what they call interdiction: when a targeted individual or organization orders a new computer or other electronic device, the NSA intercepts the shipping delivery and installs malware in the device, allowing the agency to, for example, log every keystroke and transmit the information to the NSA. According to the Der Spiegel report, the NSA ranked the interdiction operation as among its most productive.
Of course, the NSA does not need physical possession of a computer to access its data. Der Spiegel also reported that the NSA makes use of the error messages that are familiar to any user of Microsoft Windows. When a targeted user chooses to send an error report to Microsoft, the NSA can intercept the information, using the data to better exploit the machine.