We Already Knew About NSA’s PRISM Program

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know the National Security Agency (NSA) has been using a program called PRISM to collect “metadata,” under a broad interpretation of Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act, to spy on Americans’ phone records and online data, even if they aren’t accused or suspected of a crime.

These revelations are nothing new, actually; we are just now getting the details. A YEAR AGO, Spencer Ackerman (@attackerman) reported at WIRED’s Dangerroom:

“On at least one occasion,” the intelligence shop has approved Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) to say, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court found that “minimization procedures” used by the government while it was collecting intelligence were “unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment.”

At the time, Cato Institute’s Julian Sanchez elaborated:

“The standard procedure for FISA surveillance is that “large amounts of information are collected by automatic recording to be minimized after the fact.” The court elaborated: “Virtually all information seized, whether by electronic surveillance or physical search, is minimized hours, days, or weeks after collection.”

Essentially all data is collected and sorted, and some of it stored. What gets stored and why depends on the algorithm.

Periodic reviews of these programs have found no violations of the law, but a debate as to whether telecommunications data amounts to private property and is subject to so-called third-party doctrine, where Fourth Amendment rights are relinquished when using Internet communications, is long overdue. The Fourth Amendment, in full:

“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.”
 
 


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