The NSA warrantless domestic spying program is reportedly being enabled by a loophole in federal law.
Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Amendments Act provides a secret backdoor into the emails and phone calls of ordinary Americans, according to a report in the Guardian.
This account seems to confirm information provided by sources in the intelligence community to the New York Times that claim the government is vacuuming up and reviewing the content of a vast amount of domestic digital data in its electronic surveillance program.
The US government from the president on down have insisted that there is no domestic spying initiative.
The massive scope of domestic surveillance under the National Security Agency's PRISM program, however, was in June revealed by NSA leaker/whistleblower Edward Snowden, who has now obtained asylum in Russia.
US government agencies can legally gather the emails and phone calls of foreign targets without a warrant. But the surveillance apparently doesn't end there. Facilitated by section 702 of the FISA amendments law, "The communications of Americans in direct contact with foreign targets can also be collected without a warrant, and the intelligence agencies acknowledge that purely domestic communications can also be inadvertently swept into its databases. That process is known as 'incidental collection' in surveillance parlance," the Guardian claims.
Sen. Ron Wyden believes that potential for privacy violations is significant. "[T]he intelligence community has been unable to tell Congress how many Americans have had their communications swept up in that collection... Once Americans' communications are collected, a gap in the law that I call the 'back-door searches loophole' allows the government to potentially go through these communications and conduct warrantless searches for the phone calls or emails of law-abiding Americans."
Added Wyden: "I believe that Congress should reform Section 702 to provide better protections for Americans' privacy, and that this could be done without losing the value that this collection provides."
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.
Do you think NSA surveillance as it currently stands is necessary for counter-terrorism purposes or haves it gone too far?