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It’s no surprise at all

March 11, 2016

Last week I read Barr Eisler’s novel The God’s Eye View. It was a pretty good novel but I thought one of the best parts was Eisler’s closing notes where he talks about how there is, effectively, no longer much Congressional oversight over security agencies like the NSA.

The representatives and senators who oversee those agencies are often bound by secrecy agreements with those agencies to not discuss what they hear or learn even with other congressmen. In other words, the agencies demand secrecy in the name of national security even from those who should be controlling the agencies’ policies and procedures.

So when Paul sent a link to this column by Radley Balko, it really wasn’t much of a surprise. But, surprised or not, we should all be shocked at what’s happening.

Surprise! NSA data will soon routinely be used for domestic policing that has nothing to do with terrorism

A while back, we noted a report showing that the “sneak-and-peek” provision of the Patriot Act that was alleged to be used only in national security and terrorism investigations has overwhelmingly been used in narcotics cases. Now the New York Times reports that National Security Agency data will be shared with other intelligence agencies like the FBI without first applying any screens for privacy. The ACLU of Massachusetts blog Privacy SOS explains why this is important:

What does this rule change mean for you? In short, domestic law enforcement officials now have access to huge troves of American communications, obtained without warrants, that they can use to put people in cages. FBI agents don’t need to have any “national security” related reason to plug your name, email address, phone number, or other “selector” into the NSA’s gargantuan data trove. They can simply poke around in your private information in the course of totally routine investigations. And if they find something that suggests, say, involvement in illegal drug activity, they can send that information to local or state police. That means information the NSA collects for purposes of so-called “national security” will be used by police to lock up ordinary Americans for routine crimes. And we don’t have to guess who’s going to suffer this unconstitutional indignity the most brutally. It’ll be Black, Brown, poor, immigrant, Muslim, and dissident Americans: the same people who are always targeted by law enforcement for extra “special” attention.

This basically formalizes what was already happening under the radar. We’ve known for a couple of years now that the Drug Enforcement Administration and the IRS were getting information from the NSA. Because that information was obtained without a warrant, the agencies were instructed to engage in “parallel construction” when explaining to courts and defense attorneys how the information had been obtained. If you think parallel construction just sounds like a bureaucratically sterilized way of saying big stinking lie, well, you wouldn’t be alone. And it certainly isn’t the only time that that national security apparatus has let law enforcement agencies benefit from policies that are supposed to be reserved for terrorism investigations in order to get around the Fourth Amendment, then instructed those law enforcement agencies to misdirect, fudge and outright lie about how they obtained incriminating information — see the Stingray debacle. This isn’t just a few rogue agents. The lying has been a matter of policy. We’re now learning that the feds had these agreements with police agencies all over the country, affecting thousands of cases.

Somewhere I have a picture that I took in Amsterdam a long while back (late 80s or early 90s). It was a pic of a large sign on a canal bridge, reading: Abuse of power comes as no surprise.

So don’t be surprised. Be vigilant in defense of your rights instead.


Update
Here’s Edward Snowden talking about the secrecy surrounding surveillance programs during a recent interview. Give it a listen from the 16:30 mark until the 19:05 mark.

How can the people have any voice in a process with the deck stacked like that? I have to conclude that we no longer have a voice in those decisions. It’s the Omniscient State, citizen: love it or leave it.

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