US gov't defends NSA surveillance, slams 'reprehensible' journalists

US gov't defends NSA surveillance, slams 'reprehensible' journalists

Summary: Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has defended secret data mining — and criticized media outlets for reporting it.

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Screenshot by ZDNet via The Guardian

After media outlets published "top secret" court orders which allow the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) to vacuum up millions of Verizon customer details and mine data from top technology firms, the U.S. Director of National Intelligence has hit back, claiming the reports have "numerous inaccuracies" and everything is perfectly legal.

First obtained by The Guardian, the original report documented a court order which forced U.S. carrier Verizon to hand over call system data to the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) on an "ongoing, daily basis." This metadata includes the originating and recipient phone number, the IMEI unique phone identifier, the IMSI number used to identify calls on cellular networks, trunk identifiers, phone calling cards, and the time, date, and duration of the call.

The leaked document states that under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court, the FBI was granted the order on April 25, and it expires on July 19, granting the U.S. government the wealth of information acquired during this period.

In response to allegations of ignoring citizen privacy and secret data mining, U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has released a statement stating that the U.S. government is authorized to collect communications data relating to Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Under FISA, Clapper says that Section 702, which is designed to gather data on non-U.S. persons residing outside of the United States, was "recently reauthorized by Congress after extensive hearings and debate." The defense chief says that the order "cannot be used to intentionally target any U.S. citizen, any other U.S. person, or anyone located within the United States."

However, the use of Section 702 is subject to oversight by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the Executive Branch, and Congress, which involves approved procedures to minimize the acquisition, retention and dissemination of incidentally acquired information about U.S. persons, Clapper says.

Following The Guardian's disclosure, The Washington Post released a presentation that alleged both the NSA and FBI have been secretly mining data from the servers of roughly nine technology firms. The presentation, intended only for senior analysts within the NSA's Signals Intelligence Directorate, says that data mining has occurred since 2007 under a program dubbed "PRISM."

Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, AOL, Skype, YouTube, Apple and PalTalk were all allegedly involved. Dropbox was apparently due to be next on the slate. A number of the companies have contradicted the Post's report, saying that they do not provide federal agencies "direct access" to servers containing customer data including audio, video, commentary, emails and connection logs.

The leaked presentation suggests that data extraction takes place in order to allow analysts to track an individual's movements and contacts.

The director comments that data collected under the program is "among the most important and valuable foreign intelligence information" federal agencies are able to collect, and is used to combat threats to national security. Considering the latter, Clapper believes that publishing such information is unacceptable, stating:

"The unauthorized disclosure of information about this important and entirely legal program is reprehensible and risks important protections for the security of Americans."

Topics: Government US, Data Management, Privacy, The Year's Best Tech for Work and Play

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44 comments
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  • Forgive me...

    if I am being a bit dim here, but Verizon is a US domestic carrier, correct?

    And they are scooping up data for all calls, not just overseas' calls?

    Where does the Foreign Intelligence come into it? Surely snooping on US citizen's domestic calls falls outside of the remit of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and the FISA court?
    wright_is
    • Verizon

      Verizon is the US's largest largest wireless corporation. They are a "US" based firm comprised of GTE and other former "Baby Bell" companies. Also they are 45% owned by a UK company called Vodafone The worlds second largest wireless company.
      (China Mobile is worlds largest)

      With that being said the data collected is on overseas calls not domestic. (per the court order)

      The real question here is what cost freedom? If the government looks in on who is calling who and where and discovers a plot to kill thousands of people and one of those people saved is you or someone you love then you would be rejoicing the efforts. However if they do nothing to discover the plot, preventing them from taking action and your loved one is killed because some nitwit blows up a bus load of nuns holding orphaned babies and takes out the city block with it. Then you are rather disgruntled with the government. So what cost freedom?
      McNemisis
      • Freedom ???

        The freedoms we have were fought for and defended by the people of this country time time again and for our government to infringe upon one citizens rights when they have been entrusted with the duty and power to defend them is appalling and disgraceful.
        uptou2bu
      • Stopping Terrorist

        Apparently MiNimises you have some type of involvement with this sort of thing so you of all people should know information is never going to stop terrorist. The only thing that will end this is the total. elimination of the source. This is not mister Rogers neighborhood and never has been.
        uptou2bu
      • So they say

        And we all believe them since they didn't lie about doing it in the first place.
        timspublic1@...
      • All Domestic calls too. Not just overseas.

        The court order clearly states "communications...wholly within the United States, including local telephone calls". All records.

        It's right there on the Guardian's website.
        stephen431
      • It's an easy question to answer.

        It is all in secret, so you really have no idea what is going on, and whether it's being used for what you think it is. A VERY simple scenario, and VERY likely: not Obama but the next president, signs a secret order that Tea Party or Occupy protesters are "potential terrorists". Suddenly millions of Americans become suspect, along with ANYBODY who has ever communicated with one of them for any reason. That will probably include YOU even if you never knew. Guilt by association is the standard for intelligence operations, and collateral damage (to your reputation or your life) is "acceptable".

        Far-fetched? It already happened twice in US history, and being automated will make it happen just that much faster and with greater damage than ever before. The best thing that the Founding Fathers could say now is "We warned you."
        terry flores
      • It's an easy question to answer.

        It is all in secret, so you really have no idea what is going on, and whether it's being used for what you think it is. A VERY simple scenario, and VERY likely: not Obama but the next president, signs a secret order that Tea Party or Occupy protesters are "potential terrorists". Suddenly millions of Americans become suspect, along with ANYBODY who has ever communicated with one of them for any reason. That will probably include YOU even if you never knew. Guilt by association is the standard for intelligence operations, and collateral damage (to your reputation or your life) is "acceptable".

        Far-fetched? It already happened twice in US history, and being automated will make it happen just that much faster and with greater damage than ever before. The best thing that the Founding Fathers could say now is "We warned you."
        terry flores
      • Nitpick

        General Telephone and Electric (the original parent of Sprint) was never owned by AT&T and was therefore not a Baby Bell. Bell Atlantic, which was the company that morphed into Verizon, however, was.
        John L. Ries
    • George knew it was coming....

      Read 1984
      Bradish@...
      • yes but,

        It all fell through the memory hole. The Minitrue + AP = whatever suites the day ;)
        I can just feel the Love. :o
        mytake4this
  • Be careful Guardian

    Watch out or you'll be accused of rape in Sweden and exiled to Ecuador!

    Thank God for the brave PATRIOTS who leaked this information.
    John30303
    • Yes thank god...

      Absolutely thank God.
      Now the "Terrorists" will just switch carriers... Perhaps to "72" Virgins Mobile.

      Be sure to "Thank God" when another terrorist kills a child.
      McNemisis
      • Yes Thank God

        This country was founded on the word of God and defended by our citizens on the word and principles of God not only in this country but all over the world.

        As for the individuals that released this information apparently They found something thats wasn't on the up & up.
        uptou2bu
        • nope.

          false. http://i.imgur.com/PnHGv.jpg
          Nicholas Moore
        • Sorry, but that's not true.

          You're completely delusional if you think this country was founded on God(assuming you're talking about the Christian God). God had no part in the Constitution except for the part that says that church and state must remain separate. A large number of the Founding Fathers as we call them, were in fact Deists(which at the time was pretty much considered atheism by the theologians) or just not religious at all.

          In case you didn't know what Deism is, it is the belief that reason and observation of the natural world are sufficient to determine the existence of God, accompanied with the rejection of revelation and authority as a source of religious knowledge. They also reject the dogmas and other aspects of the religion. They do not base their lawmaking on the Bible. They simply used the Bible for philosophical purposes, and that was primarily from the teachings of Jesus, as they rejected most everything else in the book.

          We may be a country that has a majority calling themselves Christian, but that does not make us a Christian nation. To be honest, I bet a good chunk of those who call themselves Christian don't actually practice the beliefs or attend church, so the numbers are kinda skewed.


          I'd suggest reading some of the biographies you can find on Amazon about the Founding Fathers, as you'll get a good grasp of exactly how religious some of them were.
          matt4343
      • 72 virgins

        It is 72 Virginians they get when they die a matter ,which means they are going to get their ass whipped in this life and the next. :-)
        uptou2bu
  • Proprietary information?

    I don't understand why these tech companies give their data to law enforcement. Isn't this information protected, as it is proprietary information?
    bg3075@...
    • Protected?

      By what? The Bill of Rights?? Silly person! The Bill of Rights is passé!

      /s
      And the information is not going to Law Enforcement, it's going to the Intelligence agencies.
      MajorlyCool
    • Proprietary information

      The data collected by a company certainly is proprietary.
      It is not however protected from scrutiny by law enforcement with a court order.
      McNemisis