Shocking revelation from Capitol Hill where it was revealed at a Judiciary Committee hearing that the NSA can listen to the content of domestic phone calls of American citizens without a warrant. Further, the decision to listen to those calls can be made by a low level analyst.
The National Security Agency has acknowledged in a new classified briefing that it does not need court authorization to listen to domestic phone calls.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat, disclosed this week that during a secret briefing to members of Congress, he was told that the contents of a phone call could be accessed "simply based on an analyst deciding that."
If the NSA wants "to listen to the phone," an analyst's decision is sufficient, without any other legal authorization required, Nadler said he learned. "I was rather startled," said Nadler, an attorney and congressman who serves on the House Judiciary committee.
Not only does this disclosure shed more light on how the NSA's formidable eavesdropping apparatus works domestically, it also suggests the Justice Department has secretly interpreted federal surveillance law to permit thousands of low-ranking analysts to eavesdrop on phone calls.
Because the same legal standards that apply to phone calls also apply to e-mail messages, text messages, and instant messages, Nadler's disclosure indicates the NSA analysts could also access the contents of Internet communications without going before a court and seeking approval.
The disclosure appears to confirm some of the allegations made by Edward Snowden, a former NSA infrastructure analyst who leaked classified documents to the Guardian. Snowden said in a video interview that, while not all NSA analysts had this ability, he could from Hawaii "wiretap anyone from you or your accountant to a federal judge to even the president."
There are serious "constitutional problems" with this approach, said Kurt Opsahl, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation who has litigated warrantless wiretapping cases. "It epitomizes the problem of secret laws."
You have to read the whole Declan McCullagh article to get the depth of the penetration of our privacy by the NSA and the lack of safeguards to prevent serious abuses of the system.
This isn't "monitoring." This isn't "scanning." This is eavesdropping -- exactly what President Obama denied when he said "Nobody is listening to your phone calls." Oh, yes they are, Barry, and lying about it is about the most egregious breach of trust with the American people that has occurred in your administration.
The government is out of control and it's an open question whether enough can be done to salvage our constitutional liberties.