Monday, October 14, 2013

Scared of the [Obvious] Answer

Trey Smith

The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School recently released a report, "What the Government Does With Americans' Data", that is eye-opening, to say the least. While said report does not contain any new revelations, it does bring together the information that is currently publicly available and presents it so that the average person can begin to understand the scope of government spying.

To this end, here's a summary of one section, Data Retention By the Numbers.
  • 5 years: How long the National Security Agency keeps “metadata” about all Americans’ domestic and international phone calls without suspicion of wrongdoing
  • 5 years: How long the National Counterterrorism Center can keep and search databases of non-terrorism information about Americans
  • 5 to 20 years: Retention periods for databases that store at least some information from border searches of Americans’ laptops, phones, hard drives, and more
  • 6 years: Time period, beginning with the start of surveillance, that the NSA can keep Americans’ incidentally gathered communications
  • 20 to 30 years: Amount of time the FBI keeps information collected via assessments and National Security Letters, even when it is irrelevant to a current investigation
  • 30 years: Time period that Suspicious Activity Reports with no nexus to terrorism are kept by the FBI
  • 1 Billion and growing: Records in the FBI’s Investigative Data Warehouse
  • 1,000,000 sq. ft.: Size of National Security Agency’s data center (opening in 2014)
  • 41 billion: Communications records stored by NSA’s XKEYSCORE system every 30 days
As I think you can easily see, various agencies -- not simply the NSA -- are retaining a substantial trove of information that has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO WITH SUSPECTED TERRORISM. In fact, it points to the fact that a vast majority of the information being collected and retained has nothing to do not only with terrorism but any criminal wrongdoing of any kind.

Since officials in the Obama administration and their Congressional supporters are conducting a full-court press to try to avoid any meaningful limitations on the government's ability to spy on Americans (and innocents throughout the world), it should make even the most steadfast defender of the theoretical need for domestic spying a tad bit nervous.    

It should cause most people to ask a very elemental question: What are they REALLY up to?  

And let's be honest.  Most sentient people are scared of the answer.  If thwarting terrorism is not the real aim, then it means that controlling us is what this is all about.  The numbers above don't add up to anything else but that!

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