And thousands of other Americans as well, as is revealed in a recent FISA court decision excoriating the practices of the NSA under the Obama administration:
U.S. intelligence agencies conducted illegal surveillance on American citizens over a five-year period, a practice that earned them a sharp rebuke from a secret court that called the matter a “very serious” constitutional issue.
The criticism is in a lengthy secret ruling that lays bare some of the frictions between the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and U.S. intelligence agencies obligated to obtain the court’s approval for surveillance activities.
The document, signed by Judge Rosemary M. Collyer, said the court had learned in a notice filed Oct. 26, 2016, that National Security Agency analysts had been conducting prohibited queries of databases “with much greater frequency than had previously been disclosed to the court.”
It said a judge chastised the NSA’s inspector general and Office of Compliance for Operations for an “institutional ‘lack of candor’ ” for failing to inform the court. It described the matter as “a very serious Fourth Amendment issue.”
The Fourth Amendment protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures by the government, and is a constitutional bedrock protection against intrusion.
Parts of the ruling were redacted, including sections that give an indication of the extent of the illegal surveillance, which the NSA told the court in a Jan. 3 notice was partly the fault of “human error” and “system design issues” rather than intentional illegal searches.
Data captured from both upstream and downstream sources are stored in massive databases, available to be searched when analysts need to, often months or as much as two years after the captures took place.
The prohibited searches the court mentioned involved NSA queries into the upstream databanks, which constitute a fraction of all the data NSA captures around the globe but are more likely to contain the emails and phone calls of people in the United States.
Federal law empowers the NSA and CIA to battle foreign terrorist actions against the United States by collecting the electronic communications of targets believed to be outside the country. While communications of U.S. citizens or residents may get hoovered up in such sweeps, they are considered “incidental” and must be “minimized” – removing the identities of Americans – before broader distribution.
The court filing noted an NSA decision March 30 to narrow collection of “upstream” data within the United States. Under that decision, the NSA acknowledged that it had erred in sweeping up the communications of U.S. citizens or residents but said those errors “were not willful.” Even so, the NSA said it would no longer collect certain kinds of data known as “about” communications, in which a U.S. citizen was merely mentioned.
The NSA announced that change publicly on April 28, two days after the court ruling, saying the agency would limit its sweeps to communications either directly to or from a foreign intelligence target. That change would reduce “the likelihood that NSA will acquire communications of U.S. persons or others who are not in direct contact with one of the agency’s foreign intelligence targets.”
The court document also criticized the FBI’s distribution of intelligence data, saying it had disclosed raw surveillance data to sectors of its bureaucracy “largely staffed by private contractors.”
This is a particularly scathing ruling when one considers the generally lackadaisical approach to the 4th amendment taken by the FISA court.
There is a reason why I call Barack Obama, “Worst Constitutional law professor ever.™“
This is why we need checks and balances.