NSA Uses ‘Stop And Frisk’ Standards To Collect Data, Official Says

What does the NSA and “stop and frisk” have in common? According to an official who works for the spy agency, more than you’d think (or want). Much like the highly controversial stop and frisk policy, NSA agents use “reasonable suspicion” when identifying possible targets.

The admission was made during a hearing held by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board on Monday. The board was created in 2004 to monitor and hold hearings on government intelligence collection programs. According to the Kansas City Star, this is the first time such a hearing has been held.

It was NSA General Counsel Rajesh De who remarked that the way phone call data is collected is “effectively the same standard as stop and frisk,” according to The Hill. As one member on the board, James Dempsey, pointed out, the stop and frisk program is “at the very least, highly controversial.” He pointed out the history of discriminatory use of the policy.

Dempsey refers to New York City police’s aggressive use of their version of stop and frisk. NYC cops have been accused of using racial profiling to disproportionately target Latinos and African-Americans. In fact, last August a federal judge ruled on just this issue, ordering the practice to end.

With this in mind, De’s remarks comparing the controversial NSA surveillance programs to the recently struck down NYPD practice are raising eyebrows. And for good reason — as Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks have shown, the NSA spy programs have turned scanning and collecting phone data on millions of people into business as usual.

Realizing the minefield De planted the NSA in with his comment, agency official Robert Litt tried to reel the comparison back. Litt told the board that the telephone monitoring program violates privacy “considerably less” than a physical pat-down. This, he explains, is because it supposedly only collects numbers called and call lengths.

Some have called the large number of telephone records collected by the NSA to be an act of building a haystack to find a needle. Patrick Kelley, general counsel for the FBI, argued Monday for the necessity of widespread monitoring. Kelley says without the large volume of data, “it’d be much harder, much slower and much more difficult for us” to stop terrorists.

De’s comments comparing the NSA telephone monitoring program to the controversial stop and frisk policy will likely influence a list of recommendations for the spy agency the oversight board will submit to Congress and the White House.

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