If You've Communicated With Someone Outside Of the U.S., the NSA Has Spied On You

Although federal officials have acknowledged that the NSA monitors communications of Americans in contact with foreigners abroad, they forgot to tell the American people that they also run warrantless searches on their records for references linking Americans to foreign suspects, such as telephone numbers or email addresses. Consequently, any communications directed outside of the U.S. are subject to NSA surveillance by default.

This is hardly surprising, as it is merely the latest development in the series of ongoing revelations about the extent of the NSA’s questionable surveillance techniques, but that makes it no less outrageous and infuriating. Americans must hold their government accountable to stop such unprecedented executive overreach in the name of the national security state.

Government officials maintain that the 2008 FISA Amendments Act allows cross border surveillance if the “target” is not a citizen and is residing abroad. However, the law makes no references as to the legality of collecting communications data on Americans who are directly or indirectly connected to the noncitizen “target.” Therefore, national security state proponents are taking as expansive a view on the law as possible in order to justify the warrantless data collection and surveillance of U.S. citizens.

Edward Snowden leaked the NSA’s interpretation of how it can carry out the 2008 FISA law, which hinted at the NSA’s cross-border surveillance apparatus before the media fully unmasked it on August 8. The rules state that the NSA “seeks to acquire communications about the target that are not to or from the target.”

The NSA maintains that its search engines only gather cross-border communications for a very short period of time, as they are deleted unless they contain information associated with their overseas targets, but refuses to reveal the amount of outgoing communications subject to its monitoring. Computer scientists indicate that the NSA must gather virtually all cross-border communications before searching their contents due to the nature of fiber-optic networks.

NSA officials also insist that the keywords used to single out communications for reading are limited. However, given the constant lies that the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, and the Obama administration have fed the public regarding the extent of NSA surveillance, it’s safe to assume that the NSA takes a very broad definition of the word “limited.” Similarly, John Inglis, the deputy director of the NSA, lied to the House Intelligence Committee that the NSA “does not target the content of U.S. person communications without a specific warrant anywhere on earth.”

Americans deserve better than this. They must not allow the executive branch to circumvent the fourth amendment over opaque interpretations of FISA laws. Snowden’s leaks raised a warranted media frenzy and public outrage over the issue but, as of yet, it has not been enough to affect any meaningful change.

The House’s recent rejection of the Amash amendment, which would have defunded the NSA’s surveillance program, shows that the public must put more pressure on their legislators to vote in favor of their constitutional rights. The Amash amendment vote is a strong indicator of where your representative stands on unconstitutional NSA surveillance. Check the voting record here and if your representative voted no on the amendment, you owe it to yourself and your fellow citizens to vote him or her out of office in 2014. 

How much do you trust the information in this article?

Bryant Harris

Bryant Harris is a reporter with Inter Press Service News. He has worked in Muscat, Oman and was a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer in Morocco. He graduated from UW-Madison in 2011 with a BA in Middle East Studies.

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