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Inside Story Americas

Are US surveillance measures justified?

Amid revelations that the government is collecting mobile phone records, we examine the scope of wiretapping.

Last Modified: 07 Jun 2013 12:23
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A top secret court order has revealed that the National Security Agency (NSA) is collecting the phone records of millions of cell phone users in the US.

The court order obtained by The Guardian newspaper, requires Verizon, one of the largest telecommunication providers in the US, to hand over phone numbers, locations, the timings of the calls and their duration. It does not include the actual content of the calls.

... two things haven’t been mentioned, that are essential to understanding what’s going on right now, number one, almost 300 people were injured, maimed, and several killed in Boston days before … this ... request was approved, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence ... [so] I am not sure this is targeting all Americans … but maybe people who were on that service, and who were killing Americans as members of a jihadi organisation. 

Sebastian Gorka, Foundation for Defense of Democracies ,

In response to The Guardian piece, the White House and members of the US Congress said that such information has been is 'a critical tool in protecting the nation from terrorist threats'. The statement went on to say:

"There is a robust legal regime in place governing all activities conducted pursuant to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. That regime has been briefed to and approved by the court, and activities authorised under the Act are subject to strict controls and procedures ... under oversight of the Department of Justice, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the FISA Court, to ensure that they comply with the constitution and laws of the United States and appropriately protect privacy and civil liberties.”

However, a constitutional rights group called this surveillance programme, "beyond Orwellian".

The Department of Justice (DOJ) published what it calls myths and facts about domestic surveillance. But the latest revelations show that some of the myths are in fact true.

The DOJ says that it is a myth that "The Protect America Act gives the federal government new powers to target people in the United States for warrantless surveillance."

It cites as a fact "The Protect America Act does not authorise 'domestic wiretapping', and our intelligence professionals are not using the new law either to acquire domestic-to-domestic communications or to target the communications of persons in the United States."

Another myth is that "The Protect America Act allows the government to target Americans in the United States under the guise of surveilling a person located overseas - a practice known as 'reverse targeting'."

The Department of Justice maintains: 'reverse targeting' was, and remains, prohibited by law.

And finally that it is a myth that "The Protect America Act would allow the government to obtain, without a warrant or any court approval, the business records of Americans in the United States."

They cite as facts that "The Protect America Act does not authorise the collection of most business records, such as medical or library records," and emphasise, "The Executive Branch will not use the Act to acquire any business records of Americans in the United States."

So how widespread is the US government's surveillance? And are it surveillance measures justified? 

Inside Story Americas, with presenter Shihab Rattansi, discusses the issue with guests: James Bamford, author of The Shadow Factory: The Ultra-Secret NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America; Sebastian Gorka, the military affairs fellow and director for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies; and Jesselyn Radack, director of the Government Accountability Project.

" ... people always kind of assumed that NSA was picking up information to and from other countries … what this document does is that it shows that in addition to that, there's focus not only on communications wholly within the United States, but even local communications, if you are calling next door, those records are part of this document ... " 

- James Bamford, an author

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Source:
Al Jazeera
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