NSA Emails

Two part question:

Is the NSA still collecting everyone’s emails? Would it save the country money if we encouraged everyone to just copy the NSA on their emails so that they get an unencrypted copy and don’t have to go to the trouble to cracking it, plus it would let them focus on the emails that they WEREN’T copied on because the problem areas likely lie in THOSE emails?

They stopped in 2017, supposedly.

How would we know?

Spy agencies never lie.

Read* Edward Snowden’s book Permanent Record. He explains in clear detail exactly how the NSA program worked.

And, no, it never collected everyone’s emails in the way you think.
*I mean, seriously, read this book. Whatever your political persuasions are outside of outright crackpot you will learn a huge amount of valuable information about the way modern intelligence works. You can skip his childhood stuff. I certainly did.

It is a misconception that the NSA collected and stored everyone’s emails. Collecting the content of emails or phone calls of Americans requires a warrant, whether they are suspected of a crime or of being an agent of a foreign power. Collecting the emails of foreigners for intelligence value is routine business, though nobody likely knows how many of those emails are collected.

There have clearly been abuses and mistakes in the collection of emails that have resulted in the intentional or unintentional interception of emails of innocent Americans, but the odds that the NSA has captured all your emails to Gramma and has them in a database for them to comb through at their leisure is so close to zero — but not exactly zero itself.

There was a program that collected metadata from a huge number of phone calls - who anyone called and when - including calls made to and from Americans. But that did not collect the content of the calls. That program was reformed a few years ago to end the bulk collection that data (which looked like phone bills, basically) and more recently the reformed program totally ended.

Right now Congress is debating the extension of the Foriegn Intelligence Surveillance Act, which governs these activities. Odds seem pretty good that there will be changes to these authorities to better protect Americans. But if you’re a non-American, good luck, you aren’t protected by these laws or reform proposals.

Some say that there are agreements between allied nations the spy on the citizens of the others and then share those results to get around domestic restrictions.

That is illegal. I’m certain there have been abuses of this, but make no mistake, the law is not so facile. The Bill of Rights and protection against unreasonable searches does not have a legal loophole for such end-runs.

I can’t tell if you’re joking here… but this is the US Government we’re talking about. Intelligence, no less. You think the Constitution would stop them? Our laws didn’t matter much when Bush fabricated enemies out of thin air for us to attack, our laws didn’t much matter much when Obama butchered the First Amendment to shut down whistleblowers, or when he ordered a drone assassination of a US citizen. Our laws certainly don’t matter to the current cretin in chief. And which senator would stand up to them? (There have actually been a few who have objected to the fucked-up ness of these programs, but by and large warrantless wiretapping of Americans receives broad bipartisan support by the powers that be, under various acts vaguely related to terrorism, national security, etc. and renewed under different agencies and pet names every few years. Arguably, most everyday Americans don’t really care either.)

This particular revelation was one of Snowden’s findings:
Five Eyes - Wikipedia, compromised of US, UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, trades information with one another to get around domestic spying restrictions. You tell us about our citizens, we’ll tell you about yours.

The citations 7-10 are:

The last article, Reuters, says:

That court she’s talking about is the FISA court of secret, arbitrary justice. That’s right, that’s how much they love your rights: They’ll actually go through a charade of setting up a secret court with a secret judge to secretly bypass your warrant to get your email to gramma. Guess how many secret approvals they grant?

From 1970-2017, there have been 41,222 requests and 41,920 of them have been approved or modified. Only 85 were denied.

Assume it’s true for a moment. Who would be the perpetrator here? And who would bring charges?

It’s theoretically possible to sue the government for these trespasses, or to sunlight information through freedom of information requests, but really, Congress as a whole is too weak-willed to stop it, and the agencies are free to redact or seal cases as they see fit in the name of “national security”. It’s a legal black hole/get-out-of-jail-free-card and forever will be as long as we keep electing shitty congresspeople and presidents.

As a private citizen you’d have to be able to show damages/standing, be rich enough to find a lawyer to fight for you, have enough inside info to know which particular agency to sue and what information they have on you, and probably be willing to resettle in Russia even if you win. And the public might never hear about it anyway, because a fair trial would require releasing all the new ways they’ve been capturing information – metadata or otherwise – and thus be a national security threat. That’s why Wikileaks, an out-of-band information repository, was the closest thing to truth we’d gotten, and why Obama smacked down so hard on whistleblowers afterward.

Even the ACLU finds this a hard fight in “normal” decades, much less now. They’ve been complaining that it’s unconstitutional since 2008; does anyone listen? The Supreme Court doesn’t give a damn. The EFF, the other major org aside from the ACLU concerned about such matters, continues to fight in other lawsuits.

This arguably isn’t a legal question, because it’s unconstitutional, and yet still very politically popular in that there has never been a critical mass of legislators or judges willing to fight to make it actually punishable. And the electorate has largely turned a blind eye to it as well, and keep reelecting people who in turn don’t prioritize it.

And these efforts are hardly new… a random smattering from Wikipedia:

The law has never stopped this. Congressmen have always expressed “concern” at their overreach, and nothing has ever been done.

It’s not just emails, they can now get your browser history without a warrant -
Now there’s nothing stopping the PATRIOT Act allowing the FBI to slurp web-browsing histories without a warrant

This is a problem with the law. If I remember correctly, and there’s a chance I get this backwards, abuse of FISA authorities for intentional illegal surveillance in theory carries criminal penalties, but abuse of Executive Order 12333 (which is the foundational document that authorizes the collection of foreign (not domestic!) intelligence outside of the United States does not.

So let’s say an intelligence analyst goes rogue and starts snooping on Americans. He could face very different repercussions based on how the spying occurred. But the logs of what he was doing are reviewed by inspectors general who make periodic reports to Congress (I think it’s quarterly) on any abuses they find, and the Civil Liberties and Protection Office also reviews them. There have been cases where the collection authorities themselves were shut down because of abuses, but I’m not aware of anyone being prosecuted.

For example: Surprise: NSA Stops Collecting Americans' Emails 'About' Foreign Targets | Techdirt


The fact that this rant is bipartisan in no way invalidates the fact that it’s completely inappropriate for General Questions. This is a Warning for politicking in GQ.