Unlike the typical rhetorical article title, the answer to this one may be “yes.” Given that much of what happens in government anti-terrorism activity is secret, and a secret court can order surveillance, it’s hard to know what is and is not going on. The Bush Administration did things that were probably illegal, but the Obama Administration is at least claiming that there is legislation allowing them to do what they do. According to news reports, a significant portion of the intelligence briefing that the President receives comes from intercepted electronic communications. The Washington Post reports:
President Obama strongly defended the government’s secret surveillance of people’s phone records and Internet activities Friday, saying there are “a whole bunch of safeguards involved” and that Congress has repeatedly authorized the programs. …
Obama spoke at length about the need to find a proper balance between national security prerogatives and civil liberties.
It’s a little disconcerting when The Guardian, a UK newspaper, carries a story from a senior intelligence analyst, a whistleblower, saying that the US government taps into major Internet service providers (described as “partners”) in leaked documents, and the service providers say that they don’t know anything about it. Somebody is wrong there and I don’t know where the story will go.
What I do know is that some of the most brutal and repressive regimes in history have used secret courts, and of all the things related to this issue, that bothers me the most.
The question came to my mind, is it possible to encrypt communications so that the NSA can’t read it, and of course the answer is yes, although the methods may not be practical for general email messages.
- Washington Post article on Secret program
- “NSA PRISM program taps in to user data of Facebook, Yahoo and others” – The Guardian
- Washington Post article on Obama’s response to Internet surveillance story
- Transcript of Obama’s remarks – Wall Street Journal
- Rachel Maddow segment on Internet surveillance
- Bruce Schneier on choosing a strong password