The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States sets a clear standard for when searches and seizures of people’s information can take place: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
Americans have suspected for years that the Patriot Act and FISA Amendments Act were being used to create a gigantic electronic surveillance network to spy on Americans, seizing their private information and violating their constitutional rights. For a month and a half, we have known for certain that, despite earlier denials by George W. Bush and Barack Obama, this Big Brother electronic spying network really does exist and is conducting massive searches to grab information about the private activities of practically every American on a daily basis. It’s not just metadata, and it’s not just telephone conversations that are being tracked by the U.S. government.
Before yesterday, the Obama Administration had admitted that it had been spying on Americans’ private Internet activity, gathering information about when and where Americans go on the Internet, who they text, who they email. However, Barack Obama promised that he had stopped that Internet spying years ago.
Yesterday, we learned that, despite its earlier assurances, Barack Obama has authorized a second program to keep on spying on Americans’ online private activities. The program is called XKeyscore, and here’s what we know about it:
- XKeyscore allows military spies at the National Security Agency to search through gigantic databases of previously seized records of Americans’ online activities merely by filling in a simple on-screen form claiming that the search is related to national security – without being required to provide any evidence that the claim is true.
- Searches for information about Americans’ online activities through XKeyscore are conducted without any search warrant, without any judicial approval, and without even any approval by NSA managers. Military spies can simply conduct searches for information about individual Americans at will.
- The information that can be searched is not limited to metadata, but includes the content of private emails and Facebook chats.
- The XKeyscore spying system, in addition to enabling military spies to search through records of Americans’ Internet activities, allows NSA staff to watch where Americans go online and look at the content of what they are doing online as it is taking place.
- The XKeyscore program allows military spies to identify individual Americans as targets for surveillance by email, name, telephone number, IP address, or social media user name.
- The XKeyscore system enables military spies to search through Americans’ online social networks and contacts records, adding initial targets’ “friends” to a rapidly expanding set of people under online surveillance
- Every day, the XKeyscore system gains access to between one and two billion new records of Internet activities
- The number of records of email and telephone communications purely between Americans seized through XKeyscore, is now estimated to have reached 20 trillion – and that doesn’t include the system’s seizure of other online records, such as web browsing or social media activity
Three days from now, Americans will gather in protest against the gigantic government spy network centered in the military’s National Security Agency. They’re calling it 1984 Day. Will you participate?