The NSA Continues to Violate Americans' Internet Privacy Rights

A federal court will be scrutinizing one of the National Security Agency’s worst spying programs on Monday. The case has the potential to restore crucial privacy protections for the millions of Americans who use the internet to communicate with family, friends, and others overseas.

The unconstitutional surveillance program at issue is called PRISM, under which the NSA, FBI, and CIA gather and search through Americans’ international emails, internet calls, and chats without obtaining a warrant. When Edward Snowden blew the whistle on PRISM in 2013, the program included at least nine major internet companies, including Facebook, Google, Apple, and Skype. Today, it very likely includes an even broader set of companies.

PRISM Slide

The government insists that it uses this program to target foreigners, but that’s only half the picture: In reality, it uses PRISM as a backdoor into Americans’ private communications, violating the Fourth Amendment on a massive scale. We don’t know the total number of Americans affected, even today, because the government has refused to provide any estimate.

This type of unjustifiable secrecy has also helped the program evade public judicial review of its legality because the government almost never tells people that it spied on them without a warrant. Indeed, the government has a track record of failing to tell Americans about this spying even when the person is charged with a crime based on the surveillance. That’s one reason why this case is so important — this time, the government has admitted to the spying.

In this case, the government accused a Brooklyn man, Agron Hasbajrami, of attempting to provide material support to a designated terrorist organization in Pakistan. After he pleaded guilty to one of the charges, the government belatedly admitted that it had read through his emails without a warrant.

Now Mr. Hasbajrami has challenged the government’s warrantless surveillance and is asking the Second Circuit Court of Appeals to throw out the resulting evidence. The American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation are supporting him as friends-of-the-court, arguing that the surveillance was unconstitutional (the brief we filed is here). At the hearing on Monday, we’ll explain to a three-judge panel why the Fourth Amendment requires the government to get a warrant when it wants to exploit the communications of Americans who are swept up in PRISM.

This large-scale internet surveillance grew out of the Bush administration’s post-9/11 warrantless wiretapping program. It is conducted under a controversial law known as Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Relying on Section 702, the government intercepts billions of international communications — including many sent or received by Americans — and it hunts through them in investigations that have nothing to do with national security.

The government attempts to defend this spying by pointing out that its “targets” are foreigners located abroad. But this is no defense at all. Americans regularly communicate with individuals overseas, and the government uses PRISM surveillance to collect and sift through many of these private communications. The government has even admitted that one of the purposes of Section 702 is to spy on Americans’ international communications without a warrant.

The government casts a wide net, making it easy for innocent Americans who communicate with family, friends, and others overseas to be swept up. Relying on a single court order, the NSA uses Section 702 to put more than 125,000 targets under surveillance each year. These individuals need not be spies, terrorists, or accused of any wrongdoing — they can be journalists, business people, university researchers, or anyone else who may have information bearing remotely on “foreign affairs.”

PRISM is a warrantless wiretapping program that operates around the clock, vacuuming up emails, Facebook messages, Google chats, Skype calls, and the like. Government agents do not review all of the information in real-time — there’s simply too much of it. Instead, the communications are pooled together and stored in massive NSA, FBI, and CIA databases that can be searched through for years to come, using querying tools that allow the government to extract and examine huge amounts of private information.

PRISM Slide

One of the most problematic elements of this surveillance is the government’s use of “backdoor searches” to investigate individual Americans. Although the government says PRISM is targeted at foreigners who lack Fourth Amendment privacy rights, it systematically combs through its PRISM databases for the emails and messages of Americans. Indeed, FBI agents around the country routinely search for the communications of specific Americans using their names or email addresses — including at the earliest stages of domestic criminal investigations.

The result is an end-run around the Fourth Amendment. Investigators have easy access to a trove of Americans’ private emails, calls, and messages, without ever seeking individualized approval from any judge, as the Constitution requires.

This surveillance leaves far too much unchecked power in the hands of executive branch officials. Today, that includes President Trump, who as a candidate called for expanded spying on Americans. The ACLU is taking on this threat to Americans’ privacy rights, just as we challenged the government’s warrantless wiretapping across both the Bush and Obama administrations. Now the courts must do their part to ensure that Americans’ online communications receive the full protection of the Fourth Amendment.

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Anonymous

You should be ashamed of your shameless paltering. The Newsweek article reads as follows: With an eye for “proper oversight,” Trump said, Obama and top congressional Republicans “should work together to make a program which the public can support.” Trump added:
I support legislation which allows the NSA to hold the bulk metadata. For oversight, I propose that a court, which is available any time on any day, is created to issue individual rulings on when this metadata can be accessed. Your statement, " Today, that includes President Trump, who as a candidate called for expanded spying on Americans," is misleading at best. Your story is too important to be tainted with misleading accusations. Stick with unassailable facts.

RP

@Anonymous! Obama, Is responsible for the shape the internet is in today! With his Illegal actions, he set forth the evasion of all Americans Privacy! People blaming Mr. Trump, for all the acts of Obama's screw ups, is beyond sickening! I stopped believing anything the news media sets to press anymore, because even their half truths are closer to bull, then facts. All The Demoflakes in Washington has done, in trying to remove our leader from office, is spend $100's of millions of the Tax payers hard earned money, with their witch hunt of our President! An act, that has yet to provide any proof of his guilt! and never will! but the same can't be said, for the traitor, known as Obama! Enough Said!

Ernesto S. Perea Jr.

I have been under this abuse of privaledge for almost a year now and am nearing absolute dire strates due to deliberate malicious sabatage of my means of income, family stature and well being by this type of intrusive violation of my Fourth Amendment right to privacy. I live in Pecos, Texas USA. Im 50 years old and an American citizan and have been forced to just cry for HELP as a direct redult of such intrusive measures being used and abused by our local law enfircement here in Reeves county Texas. Someone please help me to not let this happen to another innocent American Citazen.

Daneel

Even if the law worked, it would only protect "citizens". It is still open season on humans.

Anonymous

Sorry not sorry, but screw Americans. Your crazy dystopia spreads like a disease on the rest of the world. What on earth did we do to you to deserve being treated like that?

Anonymous

> A federal court will be scrutinizing one of the National Security Agency’s worst spying programs on Monday

So, what happened?

Anonymous

In the sickly xenophobic mind, all foreigners, by definition of the sickness, are terrifyingly illegal subhumans whether they've crossed a border or not and they therefore deserve to be spied on and sanctioned and to have bombs frequently dropped on them to keep them in their place, in line, and unable to contaminate sacred manifest demographically oligarchical destinies ... the overlords weaponize xenophobia by exacerbating it with propaganda, to justify their sanctions and wars, while running the grandest racketed psyop of all, monetarism, devoid of most science, with only enough math to compound the usury, and they thereby perpetuate their slow mercilessly sadistic genocidal control. Based on the abundance of the solar system and stability of the host star, all humans are incredibly wealthy but you'd never know that in a monetary system where, if everyone had an analogous amount of coin of the realm, the abundance of it in everyone's pockets would make it worthless.

Anonymous

It’s pretty obvious we live in a police state, have for years. They watch you driving taking pictures of your plates with ALPRs everywhere, can unlock all your phones without a warrant, have facial recognition devices everywhere and can track your movement through credit cards money and gps camera devices. The game is lost. Courts have been impotent and complicit. These conservatives judges have committed the most violations of the constitution than any law being broken. In this day an age the nosebleed violated law and crime isn’t murder theft or any citizen crime it’s the daily constant violation of the 4th amendment by our police state.

Anonymous

I wish

Anonymous

and no one to blame but ourselves, and as you read this article, you get upset and see the wrong being done, make your comments and share your emotion disapproval of the violations being done against your desires YET YOU STILL HAVE DONE NOTHING TO MAKE IT STOP! The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Americans as a whole are nothing more than a society of deranged insane people. Proof is in your continued belief in your vote for the next political figure who promises to do the right thing and never does. Then come next vote you repeat the action. When will you realize you are insane? When will you show you are not? The action here would speak louder than the opposite which is continue to elect liars into office and watch as they get wealthy from your enslavement. CUT THE HEAD OFF THE SNAKE, REPLACE THE ENTIRE GOVERNMENT ELECTED OFFICIALS ALL AT ONCE, FIRE THEM ALL. Insert new elected officials WHO NEVER HELD AN ELECTED OFFICE BEFORE. And from there forward once an elected official has ran their term of office, ONLY a never before elected person can fill the position. THIS WAY THEIR IS NEVER ENOUGH TIME FOR OUR ELECTED OFFICIALS TO GET GREEDY AND CORRUPT AND WILL BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE FOR BAD DECISIONS DURING THEIR SHORT TERM. STOP THE INSANITY DO YOUR DUTY AS AMERICANS AND END THE FEDERAL RESERVE AND OUR TYRANNICAL GOVERNMENT BEFORE THEY END AMERICA!!!

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