“There is no spying on Americans,” President Barack Obama told Jay Leno this week. “What we do have is some mechanisms that can track a phone number or an email address that is connected to a terrorist attack.”
The blatant dishonesty of this statement was already apparent to anyone who has paid attention to the details of the many ways that the federal government is using the Patriot Act and the FISA Amendments Act to spy on Americans. Military spies and federal law enforcement agents are working together to search and seize both metadata and full content of telephone calls, emails, texts, social media activity, and other electronic communications both within and outside the borders of the United States.
Information revealed this morning shows that Obama’s lie about National Security Agency spying is even larger than we thought. It turns out that whenever the federal government talks about the NSA targeting terrorists in their electronic surveillance, what they really mean is that they’re targeting anyone who even talks about terrorists – or suspected terrorists, or other foreigners that the federal government wants to spy on.
Electronic communications from Americans that cross international boundaries en route from server to server are being seized in bulk, rather than being sifted precisely, as we’ve been told before. The contents, and not just the metadata, of these communications, are being searched. Then, any communication that even mentions a foreigner that the military spies are interested in, or that foreigner’s email, or telephone number, or other related information, is flagged for additional attention.
It’s important to remember that foreign targets of U.S. surveillance are usually not related to terrorism – as we have seen with the revelation that the NSA is spying on nearly the entire nation of Brazil. Furthermore, electronic communications that cross international borders in an electronic sense can easily include communications purely between Americans within U.S. boundaries. We use foreign web sites, or use email addresses on servers in Canada, for instance. Now, our own government is treating these activities as the privacy equivalent of going through customs at a border crossing.
Barack Obama’s claim that federal government spying is only on communications “connected to a terrorist attack.” If Obama were serious about the idea of a national conversation on the sacrifice of liberty to Homeland Security, he could begin with a national television and radio address, in prime time, that discusses in detail all the revelations about surveillance abuses conducted by the Executive Branch under his direction. Then, Obama could open up a special channel of communication to the White House for Americans to respond.
We’re not going to see anything like this take place, because Barack Obama isn’t serious about having a real conversation about the systematic violation of our constitutional rights by his Big Brother system of spying on Americans.