Contrary to what government officials have claimed, the National Security Agency is apparently snooping on the content of email messages to and from the USA without a warrant in a very big way.
On Jay Leno's show Tuesday night,President Obama insisted that "we don't have a domestic spying program," but a New York Times report suggests otherwise.
Privacy advocates and civil libertarians across the political spectrum have strenuously argued that NSA electronic surveillance of ordinary citizens violates the 4th Amendment prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures. In general, the American public seems to agree.
In late July, Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald asserted that the NSA has "trillions" of email messages in its database, which can be secretly accessed by even low-level contractors. Greenwald was the journalist who originally broke the bombshell domestic NSA spying scandal with his interview of Edward Snowden, the NSA leaker/whistleblower who has now obtained asylum in Russia.
Based on information provided by one or more unnamed intelligence officials, the Times claims that message content itself is being examined: "While it has long been known that the agency conducts extensive computer searches of data it vacuums up overseas, that it is systematically searching -- without warrants -- through the contents of Americans' communications that cross the border reveals more about the scale of its secret operations."
The scope of this electronic dragnet of metadata is staggering: "To conduct the surveillance, the NSA is temporarily copying and then sifting through the contents of what is apparently most e-mails and other text-based communications that cross the border... The official said the keyword and other terms were 'very precise' to minimize the number of innocent American communications that were flagged by the program. At the same time, the official acknowledged that there had been times when changes by telecommunications providers or in the technology had led to inadvertent overcollection."
In late July, the House of Representatives narrowly defeated an amendment proposed by Michigan Republican Justin Amash that would have limited the NSA spying program.The Amash amendment would have ended the "mass surveillance of Americans" and while permitting the government to acquire business records and other "tangible things" actually related to counterterrorism efforts. It also would have instituted more robust judicial oversight of the NSA's surveillance activities.
Should Congress continue its efforts to try to rein in the NSA domestic surveillance program?