U.S. Email, Phone Surveillance Details Come to Light in House Testimony

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2013-06-18 Print this article Print

In the case of the San Diego terrorist, for example, the FBI was prohibited from collecting anything without the order from the FISA court. Once it got that order, the FBI was able to see who was communicating with whom and to capture the contents of the email. The feds then used this information to get a wiretap warrant to monitor the actual phone conversations. It was only after the FBI got that information that it was able to arrest the terrorist and subsequently try him.

According to the congressional testimony, the combination of Part 215 and Part 702 resulted in putting an end to more than 50 terrorist attacks in the U.S. since the Patriot Act went into effect after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. NSA Director General Keith Alexander said that this information was critical to preventing those attacks and others such as an attempt to bomb the New York City subway system.

Under intense questioning by Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-Minn), Alexander said the NSA does not keep a database of recorded phone conversations, nor does it keep a database of recorded video. He also said the NSA does not routinely run pattern matching against its database of phone numbers, only doing so when there's a specific requirement and only when there's approval from the FISA court.

However, Alexander did not rule out that the FBI might be collecting information such as phone conversations, credit card numbers or emails. He noted that the NSA is only allowed to perform surveillance on what he called "non-U.S. persons" unless there was a court order for some specific action, and he added that normally such actions aren't handled by the NSA, but rather by other agencies.

What this means to you is that you can be certain that your phone metadata is being recorded by the phone companies and delivered monthly to the NSA, which then stores it. After five years, according to the testimony, it's erased. You can also be certain that the NSA isn't tapping your phone, partly because that agency doesn't have the manpower and partly because the FBI has that responsibility.

What's more, you can be comfortable knowing that the NSA isn't reading your email. Again, that's up to the FBI. This means that instead of worrying about the NSA, you should worry about the FBI, especially if you're getting phone calls from Yemen.


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