back to article NSA refuses to deny spying on members of Congress

The NSA has refused to confirm or deny that it is collecting information on the communications and email activities of members of Congress after being questioned directly by Bernie Sanders, one of two of the Senate's only independents*. "Has the NSA spied, or is the NSA currently spying, on members of Congress or other America …

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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How on earth are the NSA going to retain their powers if they can't blackmail congress members with threats to release their browsing history etc?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I'd flip that around: now you know how they got away with it so far..

  2. BillG
    Big Brother

    Collect

    Did the NSA collect data on Obama's political opponents in 2012?

    This is a question that US news organizations have been playing with, but not asking directly. Even MSNBC has been playing with this question.

    1. Hollerith 1

      Re: Collect

      We have to presume that they collected data on everyone. NSA aren't 'for Obama' or any president, whatever flavour the next ones will come in -- they are for themselves.

      1. Eddy Ito

        Re: Collect

        Maybe not but it would likely be fairly trivial to discredit any candidate who was strong on privacy. It would also be easy to make sure candidates didn't stray far from the standard talking points and any talk of opening up government remained just talk. The birther bunch might say that Obama did his quick flip on openness because the NSA found/made/whatever a copy of his "real" birth certificate.

    2. Charles Manning

      Re: Collect

      You seem to think the NSA cares about who is in power and are a presidential play thing that can be used for the president's purposes.

      You would be wrong on both counts.

      Firstly, the whole R vs D thing is a false dichotomy. Do you want blue Frootloops or Red Frootloops? It really does not matter; you're still getting Frootloops. The NSA, and all other 3-letter organisations, carry on business regardless of who is in power. They really don't care. The false dichotomy is, however, a nice diversion that keeps Joe Public from paying too much attantion.

      Secondly, if - and we may as well assume they are - the NSA is gathering info on presidential candidates, that will be for their own use when one gets in power. They will certainly not diluting the power of that information by using it to bolster the other. It makes no sense to try to fiddle the results because the results really don't matter.

      And anyone that believes that Obama can stop Merkel's phone being tapped is a fool. The NSA will continue to tap any phone they see fit, regardless of what the prez or anyone alse says.

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      2. BillG
        Angel

        Re: Collect

        You seem to think the NSA cares about who is in power and are a presidential play thing that can be used for the president's purposes.

        You don't seem to understand. The NSA is part of the Executive Branch. That means Obama runs the NSA. While the President can't do anything that isn't funded, he can stop anything he wants. Witness that during the last government "shutdown", Obama didn't stop the NSA snooping but he did stop the NSA's internal investigation into their snooping - and when the phony shutdown was over, Obama chose not to start the investigation again. For crying out loud, Obama's own Democratic party wants him to order the snooping stopped!

        The NSA is part of the Executive Branch and the President can have it do, or not do, anything it is funded to do. That includes spying on private citizens without a warrant.

        The undeniable truth here is that Obama has the legal, constitutional authority to stop the NSA snooping anytime he wants. Congress can't interfere because that would be a violation of the separation of powers. The downvotes I've proudly received are from people that don't understand the U.S. government and so want to believe that Obama is a powerless bystander to events in Washington.

        At this point, liberals have their hands over their ears screaming I CAN'T HEAR YOU LALALALALALALA

        1. Sherrie Ludwig

          Re: Collect

          Obama runs the NSA? REALLY? You must live in fantasyland - bureaucrats and past appointees run the NSA, and any other government offices. In Britain and in the US, and probably every other country of any size in the world, who is sitting in the big chair has only the appearance of power, it's the lifelong paper-pushers who administer and follow (or ignore) the twaddle coming down the pipe that actually influence the lives of the population. The power to listen in is intoxicating and probably irresistible. J Edgar Hoover of the FBI was the real power in Washington, BECAUSE he knew everyone's dirt, or could manufacture plausible dirt on anyone. The lesson from his story isn't to avoid collecting dirt, it is to avoid being the visible point man doing it.

          1. BillG
            WTF?

            Re: Collect

            Obama runs the NSA? REALLY?

            Yes.

            Let me explain it to you again:

            The NSA is part of the Executive Branch of the United States Government. The President of the United States is the head of the Executive Branch. The President runs the NSA.

            Got it?

        2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

          Re: Collect

          That means Obama runs the NSA. While the President can't do anything that isn't funded, he can stop anything he wants.

          Oh, that's just adorable. Did the fairies in your garden tell you that?

          "Legal, constitutional authority" is of no consequence against opponents who are happy to break the law, and cannot be adequately monitored to ensure they comply with it.

          Could Obama, or any other POTUS, take stronger action against the NSA? Sure. He could sanction and remove presidential appointees, though finding someone else who's any better to do the job and will meet with Congressional approval would be a good trick. He could certainly make use of the bully pulpit to encourage popular opposition and put pressure on Congress to do things like rewrite FISA. I think it's unrealistic to expect a President of any party to do that sort of thing - it's not the kind of behavior that gets you elected in this country - but it's theoretically possible.

          But claiming that the President (any President) can simply make the NSA stop spying on US citizens is the height of naiveté.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @ BillG You mean like the IRS

      I noticed you got a lot of down votes. I guess they just ignored the hearings where the IRS targeted conservative groups. I wonder if the IRS and the NSA worked together?

      1. Bumpy Cat

        Re: @ BillG You mean like the IRS

        @AC 01:34

        If you want the actual details and facts of the IRS issue, there's a pretty funny take on it here:

        http://www.stonekettle.com/2013/05/the-irs-scandal-tempest-in-teapot.html

        Short version: 501(c)3/4 "social organisations" aren't supposed to do political lobbying, or they'll lose their tax-exempt status. Following the Citizens United decision, 60% of US political funding switched to anonymous funding through such orgs and PACs. Someone in the IRS noticed that a lot of these were Tea Party groups, and searched specifically for these for a couple of months. The IRS inspector noticed this, and reported it to the US public. None were denied 501 status. None lost tax exemption.

        The question is, are YOU happy that 60% of US political lobbying funds could be coming from Vladimir Putin, or the Muslim Brotherhood, and you wouldn't know any better?

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Collect

      Not sure, but in 2008 they apparently hoovered up all the calls in the Washington DC area code. This was later explained away as an accident - it is claimed that they wanted to intercept Egyptian calls (international code 20) but mistyped 202 and so ended up monitoring DC calls.

      This is clearly not plausible. Firstly, it would have been clear almost immediately that they're not getting Arabic calls, and yet they were supposedly doing it for a month or more. We're supposed to believe it was important enough to set up a tap, but not important enough to notice for several weeks that they getting English calls instead of Arabic ones.

      Secondly, the area code excuse just doesn't wash. For example, Algeria's code is 213 which is identical to a part of California (and not just similar). So the system must be able to distinguish between US calls and foreign calls or they'd get Californian calls every time they try to tap Algeria. Of course it would be trivial to have coded some kind of lock or error message if someone 'accidentally' sets up bulk collection of US calls, something they appear not to have done.

      Now think about why the NSA might like to listen to all the calls in Washington DC in 2008 (an election year). Convenient mistake to make, no?

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's different when it's happening to you.

    'Of course the intelligence agencies are only targeting terrorists'

    then..

    'What do you mean you were spying on me?'

    Just like the misuse of RIPA and so many other laws - it doesn't take long for them to be misused.

    1. John 98

      Re: It's different when it's happening to you.

      It's a politican who noted "power corrupts". Given the almost absolute freedom and power given the NSA the noble lord predicted they will soon end up absolutely corrupted - however nice they were to start with.

      1. Irony Deficient

        Re: It’s different when it’s happening to you.

        John 98, if you’re referring to Lord Acton, then what he’d noted was that “power tends to corrupt” — corruption is not inevitable. Did Acton’s six years as a MP, starting at age 25, inevitably corrupt him? (Granted, his power in Parliament was not absolute.)

        Another one of Acton’s memorable quotes was “The danger is not that a particular class is unfit to govern. Every class is unfit to govern.” If we accept that as axiomatic, what is to be done?

        1. Tim99 Silver badge

          Re: It’s different when it’s happening to you.

          @John 98 @Irony Deficient

          As you are aware, the "power tends to corrupt" quote is from a letter from Acton to Mandell Creighton:-

          ...I cannot accept your canon that we are to judge Pope and King unlike other men, with a favourable presumption that they did no wrong. If there is any presumption it is the other way, against the holders of power, increasing as the power increases. Historic responsibility has to make up for the want of legal responsibility. Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority, still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it...

          We now think of this as being about political power, and it is, but originally it was about Papal Infallibility (which needless to say, Acton was against) and the first Vatican Council. The bit I always remember is "Great men are almost always bad men".

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: It’s different when it’s happening to you.

            I think, however, that Adams was more accurate or at least more pertinent to our system of government when he said that "power attracts the corruptible". We see that all the time. If you're a bully, join the police; if you want to kill people, join the army; if you want bribes and backhanders, become a politician. Other people become these things too, of course, but by and large it is the ones who are most obsessed that get the promotions and they tend also to be the dangerous ones. People with self-doubt or morals have less time to devote to exploiting their positions for personal gain.

            To put it another way: the specific system of politics is not the problem; the problem is the politicians and the type of people who want to be politicians. That's why the quality of leadership never really improves despite thousands of years of supposed progress in political "science". It's still just pot luck and the best we can say about democracy is that we get to roll the dice more often, but they are the same dice.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: It’s different when it’s happening to you.

              Precisely the critical flaw in electoral democracy...

              It is not representative government, because the only people in power are ones who explicitly sought it, and had to blow their own trumpets in a shallow popularity contest to achieve it. In other words, one must be both power-hungry and an egotist to end up as an MP.

              If you want representative government, have an upper house selected on a pure jury basis, and apply the same strict rules as apply to juries - no outside influence on jurors, no discussion outside the chambers, no conflicts of interest. Then give this chamber the power to vote down any bill or make amendments. With a fixed term of a year, and no need to pander to anyone to get re-elected, jurors should be free to make their own decisions and as such, this body should be largely representative of the general public, far more so than Parliament presently is.

              For those that say you cannot trust the public - well, we trust this system to decide whether to send someone to jail for the rest of their life, or give them freedom. It's not perfect, but it's far less corrupt and far better at producing decisions than if we let a bunch of elected politicians make decisions based on who's paying them bungs or their own ideological principles rather than the facts.

              1. Matt Bridge-Wilkinson

                Re: It’s different when it’s happening to you.

                So effectively you're suggesting we need National Service brought back in but instead of training in the army, you literally serve your country by representing it? It would at least be closer to actual democracy than todays democracy is.

                1. Anonymous Coward
                  Anonymous Coward

                  Re: It’s different when it’s happening to you.

                  "So effectively you're suggesting we need National Service brought back in but instead of training in the army, you literally serve your country by representing it?"

                  That's one way of looking at it, yes. Interestingly the democracy in Athens put a big emphasis on military service and even people like Socrates had to do their bit on the front line, carrying a wounded Xenophon to safety on his back on one occasion.

                  Anyway, I would be very much in favour of a jury system instead of elections or as cap'n suggested, as a limiter on the elected nutters' powers.

              2. BillG
                Facepalm

                Re: It’s different when it’s happening to you.

                It is not representative government, because the only people in power are ones who explicitly sought it, and had to blow their own trumpets in a shallow popularity contest to achieve it. In other words, one must be both power-hungry and an egotist to end up as an MP.

                Agreed. And the next logical step is that, the way you win a shallow popularity contest is that you tell the shallow population just what they want to hear, whether it's true or not.

                For example: "If you like your health care plan, you can keep it"

    2. Lapun Mankimasta Bronze badge

      Re: It's different when it's happening to you.

      "'Of course the intelligence agencies are only targeting terrorists'"

      Which explains why Merkel's calls were tapped, doesn't it? I mean, it stands to reason that those tasked with finding and tracking terrorists would find themselves listening to the leader of one of their country's closest allies ... because it stands to reason that that one's allies are natural-born terrorists and extremists ... I mean, they've shacked up with your government, haven't they? And what could be more extremist than that?

      1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Re: It's different when it's happening to you.

        "'Of course the intelligence agencies are only targeting terrorists'"

        Which explains why Merkel's calls were tapped, doesn't it?

        ALL ANIMALS ARE TERRORISTS, BUT SOME ANIMALS ARE MORE TERRORIST THAN OTHERS.

        And while we're at it:

        Whatever goes on two legs is an enemy

        The spy services have always been great students of literature.

  4. tom dial Silver badge

    "NSA's authorities to collect signals intelligence data include procedures that protect the privacy of U.S. persons. Such protections are built into and cut across the entire process. Members of Congress have the same privacy protections as all U.S. persons,"

    This answers the question fully, although people will differ about the meaning. Those who think metadata collection is spying will interpret the answer as "yes", and those who think it is not will think otherwise.

    1. Don Jefe

      As an expert in the art of executive communications and weasel word press releases, I must inform you that no question was answered.

      Words like procedures and process are meaningless if you don't define the context in which you are applying them. Those words are in the same class of word as 'suspect, expect, estimate, forecast, anticipate, etc...' They all have the feature of seeming like important words, and they can be important, but they're generally used where misinterpretation by the audience is desired. You say it means (x), but unless the person using the term establishes the meaning in context it doesn't actually mean anything. If pressed you can assign any definition you like.

      That's not an NSA tinfoil hat kind of thing. It's taught in communications classes at university.

      1. dssf

        Akin to

        "Plausible denial", to serve exactly as you pointed out: "weasel word".

        But, these politicians should expect that if the want to "rule" us and take our money, the price to exchange is LESS privacy than that afforded the taxpayer in the "ruled" class. If a politician is dealing with matters of law or contracts or national security, then they should be protected from and forbidden to engage in bribery, extortion, blackmail, graft, and more, not given more room to hide from engaging in it.

        In this case, I am very relaxed about NSA spying intensively domestically -- if it keeps politicians less dirty. Won't clean them up, but it can keep them on notice.

        1. Matt Bryant Silver badge
          Happy

          Re: dssf Re: Akin to

          ".....In this case, I am very relaxed about NSA spying intensively domestically -- if it keeps politicians less dirty....." Shocking - dssf posted something I can actually agree with! Is that a flying pig outside?

        2. Eddy Ito

          Re: Akin to

          "Won't clean them up, but it can keep them on notice."

          I don't see how it does that. The politicians are free to do anything they wish as long as they promise to protect their cohorts in the NSA and keep the funding coming in and the NSA can equally pressure anyone else on the outside should the dirty secret start to get out in order to protect the hand that feeds. Each part is happy to continue helping each other no matter how dark and dank it gets because they are essentially holding this twisted system of hidden checks and balances to prevent their own side from becoming irrelevant.

          1. dssf

            Re: Akin to

            Then what you wrote just further underscores that the politicians' "concerns" are just for public consumption. The more sophisticate of the public recognizes it, and maybe most of the less attentive public does to some extent, but probably recognizes it can't do much about it, either.

            I accept the minus 2 points on this topic, given my previoius naeve comment.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "Those who think metadata collection is spying will interpret the answer as "yes","

      And those who think that they're just collecting metadata will believe anything.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      To argue meta data - i.e. who is talking to who and when and for how long, but not the content of what they are discussing is not spying is like saying that following someone around with a telephoto lens and recording who they meet, and when and for how long is not spying because you're not actually listening to their conversations.

      It quite obviously is, as my wife's restraining order confirms.

  5. Tom 35

    Easy answer

    "Members of Congress have the same privacy protections as all U.S. persons,"

    So that would be zip.

    I expect they have a list, starting with anyone who might vote to cut the NSA budget.

    1. Fatman

      Re: Easy answer...So that would be zip.

      You beat me to it.

  6. Vimes

    Members of Congress have the same privacy protections as all U.S. persons

    So that's a 'yes' then?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "So that's a 'yes' then?"

      More like "Hell will freeze over before we admit anything, about anyone. Now go away.."

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "Hell will freeze over before we admit anything, about anyone"

        Looks like my choice of words was unfortunate:

        http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/the-storm-so-bad-even-hell-has-frozen-over-9044252.html

  7. Mark 85 Silver badge
    Big Brother

    So what they are saying is:

    All of the American people (as well everyone person in the world) along with Congress are all suspected terrorists? Or do they know or suspect there's another American revolution in the offing? Or is really so simple that without having the "goods" on the Congress Critters, they will lose funding and power?

    BTW, Don's right about weasel words. Politics has made this an art form of the highest order.

    1. Vimes

      Re: So what they are saying is:

      All of the American people (as well everyone person in the world) along with Congress are all suspected terrorists?

      Look up Edgehill and Bullrun - both were battles in the US and UK civil wars where citizens were themselves considered potential enemies of the state. And both are codenames used by GCHQ and the NSA respectively.

    2. This post has been deleted by its author

    3. DavCrav Silver badge

      Re: So what they are saying is:

      "All of the American people (as well everyone person in the world) along with Congress are all suspected terrorists?"

      They've watched Homeland.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    There is no legitimate reason to spy on US Citizens!

    Too bad the NSA think they are above the Constitution...the whole lot of them should be hung out to dry for this.

    The NSA are doing the job of the terrorists by ruining our republic and violating our laws. This makes them criminals, everything they have ever done can be considered to be null and void.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The truly disturbing thing...

    ...is that this is only apparently an issue when it threatens congress members. Fuck those entitled tosspots.

    If the tapping was to *actually* weed out terrorism and threats to the state then congress and high-ranking members of the state apparatus would be the first people you'd tap...who can do the most damage after all: People with access to military information or Joe Public?

  10. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    Not illegal

    There is no law against the NSA bugging congress.

    There is however a law against British intelligence agencies bugging British MPs

    But if you are the police recording them when they are working as a lawyer talking to their client - it's OK.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Not illegal

      The Brits do the spying on the US and the NSA spy on the Brits. Now THAT makes it "legal".

    2. Vimes

      Re: Not illegal

      There is however a law against British intelligence agencies bugging British MPs

      And yet parliamentary authorities still manage to respond to FoIA requests in regards to the web usage associated with PCs within the houses of parliament.

      http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2442260/Betting-website-receive-700-000-hits-year-parliamentary-computers.html

      MPs are already being watched. It's not just solicitors that need to worry.

    3. Lapun Mankimasta Bronze badge

      Cu to the chase Re: Not illegal

      "There is however a law against British intelligence agencies bugging British MPs"

      I think that sentence should be corrected ASAP:

      "There is however a law against British intelligence"

      Intelligence relies upon communication; communication relies upon trust and empathy; emathy and trust are in short supply when you are aware of surveillance. Therefore there is a law against British developing and showing intelligence.

      1. This post has been deleted by a moderator

  11. Matt Bryant Silver badge
    FAIL

    (Yawn)

    Have the sheeple finished bleating yet? Maybe they should go and actually read Snowdope's own statements. The way the metadata collection works is the name of the caller/browser/messages is NOT established or recorded, just the originating identity (phone number or IP/MAC address). When the NSA say the members of Congress have the same protections as the average Joe it's true, it's only when the search algorithms turn up a hit (like someone calling the military attache at the Nicaraguan embassy) that the actual conversation gets analysed and the identity of the caller examined and the NSA goes to the FISC for a warrant to pursue an investigation (which is when the person concerned actually gets spied on). So all those calls those Dummicrats Congresspeople make to their mistresses/rentboys/submissives are just as anonymous and unexamined (and hence NOT spied on) as every other citizens.

    I suspect Bernie Sanders is either very obtuse or hoping the sheeple are - I'm leaning towards the latter and Sanders just trying to big up his rep with the flock.

    1. IglooDude

      Re: (Yawn)

      "Snowdope"? "Dummicrats"? Seriously?

      1. Matt Bryant Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Re: IglooDope Re: (Yawn)

        ""Snowdope"? "Dummicrats"? Seriously?" Is that your best effort, all you can think to post? Seriously?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: IglooDope (Yawn)

          Let me see if I understand this correctly:

          "The way the metadata collection works is the name of the caller/browser/messages is NOT established or recorded, just the originating identity (phone number or IP/MAC address)."

          OK..... so does that mean all the extraneous meta-data originating from "innocent" phone numbers just gets discarded? Are you sure about this? How does that work? Does that mean my innocent phone call can never be re-analysed and back checked to quickly reconstruct my call history?

          "it's only when the search algorithms turn up a hit (like someone calling the military attache at the Nicaraguan embassy) that the actual conversation gets analysed and the identity of the caller examined and the NSA goes to the FISC for a warrant to pursue an investigation (which is when the person concerned actually gets spied on)."

          So if the identity/origin of the caller/browser/message is not established or recorded then how does the search algorithm know when it should tell a human that a secret warrant from the secret court is now needed to pursue a secret investigation?

          How can I back track and find out what other person(s) of interest was(were) called previously so that I can establish a timeline and maybe learn more from these relationships? Quite frankly, if my mass surveillance tool couldn't do something that trivial, then I'd say give me my money back.

          Performing a reverse lookup on a phone number, IP address or browser is a trivial exercise. And I am not sure why I should I believe that the NSA (or whoever else is collecting all this data) will always bother with tedious details like a secret warrant from a secret court, where the person of interest isn't even invited or represented. Call me skeptical..

          I don't think you are fully appreciating the big picture here Mattie boy. Thinking people (and not just sheeple as you delightfully address your audience) are uncomfortable with the whole operation and its incredible potential for abuse. Your ranting does not convince me that we really have nothing to worry about. In fact, it is very difficult for me to discern exactly what it is you do believe about the whole affair. Perhaps you should try a clear and succint statement of your case as to "why NSA surveillance of global communication is not an issue for civil liberties, freedom and privacy" and see what ensues. The only thing I see now is froth.

          1. Matt Bryant Silver badge
            FAIL

            Re: AC Re: IglooDope (Yawn)

            ".....so does that mean all the extraneous meta-data originating from "innocent" phone numbers just gets discarded....." AC, please go read The Reg articles on Snowdope, he clearly states that the data is retained only for a set period before being flushed.

            "....Does that mean my innocent phone call can never be re-analysed and back checked to quickly reconstruct my call history?...." How are they going to reconstruct it, with a time machine? After they have flushed the metadata they could only get it by going back to the service provider and seeing of they retained the records. After the statutory retention limit has expired (two years in Europe, less in the US) they have no way to reconstruct it.

            "....So if the identity/origin of the caller/browser/message is not established or recorded then how does the search algorithm know when it should tell a human that a secret warrant from the secret court is now needed to pursue a secret investigation?...." Are you being deliberately obtuse or were you just dropped on your head repeatedly at birth (and probably for several years afterwards)? Take the example of the call to the Nicaraguans. The NSA (and all secret services) will maintain a target list of names, email addresses and telephone numbers belonging to those on the list. They could take a day's call metadata and push it through a filter that searches for any calls to or from that telephoen numbers on the list. Bingo! They get a hit for the call to the Nicuaraguans. They then take the originating phone number and see what data they have on it such as the listed bill-payer, who lives or works at the address the number orignates at - if it is a new number not on their watch list then they go to the FISC to get a warrant to listen to the number. Hardly rocket science.

            ".....How can I back track and find out what other person(s) of interest was(were) called previously so that I can establish a timeline and maybe learn more from these relationships?...." If you're in Europe, the lovely telecoms have to keep two years of billing metadata which the secret services of the respective countries have access to. Even before that, once you have a name you can feed it into other social tools such as a Facebook or LinkedIn search to see who the new target socialised with, where the social service provider does all the data storing and the secret service don't have to record anything (and Google does not delete anything ever). They do have to get a warrant to go get your credit details and records (seven years at least by regulation) but again that data is being held by the banks and creditcard companies, not the spooks. Then there are the mountains of data retained by local governments, such as your tax records (lifelong retention) which can be used to trace your employment history, the local doctor/hospital records (again, lifelong retention), etc., etc.

            "....And I am not sure why I should I believe that the NSA (or whoever else is collecting all this data) will always bother with tedious details like a secret warrant from a secret court...." For a massive amount of your data they do not need a warrant, you give it to people like Google for free every day. For other stuff they most definately do go get warrants as the FISC has revealed.

            ".....I don't think you are fully appreciating the big picture here Mattie boy...." I obviously don't have the right tools, i.e. a complete and paranoid detachment from reality.

            ".....why NSA surveillance of global communication is not an issue for civil liberties, freedom and privacy...." 9/11, 7/7, Madrid, the ongoing fighting in Syria, the current threat to the people going to the Winter Olympics in Russia. Instead, why don't you actually provide a case WITH evidence of why it is an issue. And by evidence I don't mean your paranoid, fear-induced bleating.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: AC IglooDope (Yawn)

              Interesting take on how well tracked we all are and why we should get used to it.

              I won't try to tackle the overall privacy issue but will instead try to stay focused on the War on Terror.

              Which is where I take issue with a few of your statements.

              "And by evidence I don't mean your paranoid, fear-induced bleating".

              First of all, ad hominem arguments don't make you more convincing, quite the opposite. I suspect the people who have dreamed up solutions like TIA are eminently more paranoid than any of us. And not everyone who disagrees with the current security policies / stance and legislation devised since the Patriot Act is a paranoid schizophrenic.

              Even if we don't have public access to our leaders' psych evaluaions, the behavior of Congress, the military, and the security establishment since 9/11 smacks of complete and utter paranoia, with immense consequences for America's economy and it's world standing. Killer drones, Star trek command and control centers, foreign wars, FATCA, and massive Data Warehouses in the Utah desert are not what the world needs right now. Much like the Cold War armaments race became after time, this is a massive waste of resources.

              Unfortunately, we may not be able to outspend our adversary this time. Instead, I suspect we will face an increasingly larger number of poor, hungry individuals and groups with a serious grudge against the West and not much to lose.

              This massive expenditure in blood and treasure already justifies much closer scrutiny and more public debate of our current policies. It might help counter the overwhelming influence of blind, fear induced consent from people who fly a lot and need security theater to feel better.

              Regarding evidence as to whether these programs have helped prevent any terrorist attacks (including the ones you mention, BTW). I think the lack of evidence (starting from 9/11) is far more telling than any of Snowden's revelations.

              http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-switch/wp/2013/12/23/obama-cant-point-to-a-single-time-the-nsa-call-records-program-prevented-a-terrorist-attack/

              The above article rather accurately depicts the level of awareness about impending terrorist attacks gathered through mass surveillance and other techniques. At best, it helps with post-attack forensics which doesn't require a lot of investigative effort, as you point out.

              But as long as my lion repellent stays on my lawn and I continue to see no lions, there are plenty who will continue to believe that lion repellent is a good investment.

              I would be very surprised if any terrorist who relied heavily on electronic communications to run his evil enterprise would remain successful for very long. AQ and OBL used human couriers for many years to evade detection until classic counter-intelligence techniques (and Special Ops) finally flushed him out and snuffed him. As the Israelis and other countries confronted by domestic and international terrorism know well, that is the way to fight terrorists. Screening some email might help, but is not nearly disruptive as a well targeted para-military strike.

              Special Ops forces probably caused more immediate damage (psychological and military) to the Taliban and other insurgent groups in the first few month of 2011. than all of the Western military campaigns that followed. These enforcers also benefited from massive international support and the encouragement of the local populace. Not so much any more.

              As soon as OBL slipped away into the night and the MIC hijacked the post 9/11 goose, we were guaranteed to wage a war that will never be won. A war that has now cost over 4 trillion dollars and hundreds of thousands of lives (overwhelmingly civilians) if you believe this source:

              http://journalistsresource.org/studies/government/security-military/us-military-casualty-statistics-costs-war-iraq-afghanistan-post-911

              Unfortunately, the arguments people put forth to try and stop (or at least rein in) this madness are always trumped by the "terrorists will kill your children" argument.

              I highly recommend that you check out the following video and its subsequent episodes.

              https://archive.org/details/ThePowerOfNightmares-Episode1BabyItsColdOutside

              It might give you a better feel as to why some of us (more and more, I'd say) are starting to wonder WTF is being done in our name.

              1. Matt Bryant Silver badge
                FAIL

                Re: Anon Cluetard Re: AC IglooDope (Yawn)

                "Interesting take on how well tracked we all are and why we should get used to it....." And you open with a complete fail - this is my surprised face, honest. We are NOT all being tracked, the only people being tracked are the very tiny number of people actually being actively spied on from the general filtering of the pool of metadata. Your standard sheeple paranoia is blocking you from seeing the simple fact no-one would find you interesting enough to watch. Seriously, get some perspective and get over yourself.

                ".....I won't try to tackle the overall privacy issue but will instead try to stay focused on the War on Terror...." What a surprise - that's because you can't. Would you bleat that you are being spied on by the postman just because he has your snail mail in his bag? For the postman to be reading your mail he has to actually OPEN and READ your mail. So unless you are in that tiny minority on the target list (and you're almost certainly not, despite what the voices in your head tell you), your privacy is not being invaded one iota.

                "......are eminently more paranoid than any of us....." (sigh) I did say without your paranoid bleating. Face it, you would have to be either massively stupid or completely paranoid to rebleat the bumph you sheeple come up with, so the chances of anyone on the planet coming close to your levels of paranoia are a number between zero and zero.

                "..... I think the lack of evidence (starting from 9/11) is far more telling than any of Snowden's revelations...." I assume you're the type of idiot that argues since a seatbelt has never saved your life you shouldn't have to wear one. I'd tell you to think about that but thinking is obviously not your strong suit, just take it from me your statement was stupid. The simple proof is to for you to go read some news (hopefully with an adult's help) and see how many bombs AQ and their friends managed to explode in the UK or USA this week. Then go look at the number the exploded in Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Africa. See the difference? And don't even try to tell the forum it's because AQ and co wouldn't dearly like to be blowing stuff up in both the UK and USA.

                ".....But as long as my lion repellent stays on my lawn and I continue to see no lions, there are plenty who will continue to believe that lion repellent is a good investment....." Wow, with arguments like that I can quite comfortably predict you'll be receiving a Darwin Award soon! Why didn't you mention life insurance, that's an investment, and has that ever saved anyone's life? ROFL.

                ".....AQ and OBL used human couriers for many years to evade detection....." AQ and OBL simply HAD to use human couriers because the NSA and GCHQ tracked far to many of their operatives and killed or captured them. Here's a clue for you - they didn't make all those drone attacks in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq by guesswork. As I posted, this has caused massive problems for AQ and disrupted their command network, to the point where they are now infighting in Syria. You must have not been able to follow the link I provided, either that or it had too many long words for you to comprehend.

                ".....are always trumped by the "terrorists will kill your children" argument...." What you failed to understand (probably because reading beyond the headlines is just too much of a challenge for you) is that the massive majority, almost 99%, of the victims of Islamist terrorism are other Muslims outside the West. It's not our children that are suffering BECAUSE we have been able to counter and disrupt their attempts to operate in the UK and USA, it's children in places like Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, where the same protections do not exist. So far there have been twenty-two known Islamist terror attacks that killed 135 people in 2014 alone (http://www.thereligionofpeace.com/index.html#Attacks) - not one of those was in the UK or USA. You're sitting there and bleating "we'll I haven't been blown up so that must mean there is no terror" - complete fail.

                "....I highly recommend...." I highly recommend you try and develop a clue.

        2. IglooDude

          Re: IglooDope (Yawn)

          """Snowdope"? "Dummicrats"? Seriously?" Is that your best effort, all you can think to post? Seriously?"

          It's not all I can think to post, no. But in my experience, no content worth any thoughtful contemplation or serious debate has ever arrived embedded with proper names adjusted for cheap mockery. If you feel your post deserves consideration, then you'd do well to drop the really stupid name-calling.

          1. Matt Bryant Silver badge
            Facepalm

            Re: IglooDope (Yawn)

            "....But in my experience, no content worth any thoughtful contemplation or serious debate has ever arrived embedded with proper names adjusted for cheap mockery...." Sorry, I can't help it if you've led a sheltered life amongst only the most serious of drones. TBH, get out more. Oh, and I note you still can't post any counters, with or without mockery.

      2. Fatman

        Re: (Yawn)..."Snowdope"? "Dummicrats"? Seriously?

        As soon as he spouted that, he lost all credibility in my eyes.

        Nice going Matt.

        1. Dan 55 Silver badge
          WTF?

          Re: (Yawn)..."Snowdope"? "Dummicrats"? Seriously?

          You mean his posting history on this subject wasn't enough?

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: (Yawn)..."Snowdope"? "Dummicrats"? Seriously?

            I think Matt's hoping that El Reg will introduce some kind of inverse 'Gold' posting badge you receive for getting over 1000 downvotes.

        2. Matt Bryant Silver badge
          Happy

          Re: Fatman Re: (Yawn)..."Snowdope"? "Dummicrats"? Seriously?

          "....he lost all credibility in my eyes....." I'd be upset if I thought your opinion was to be worried about. After all, you couldn't even be bothered to stir your Fatbrain and type a counter to teh points mentioned. Or was it that you simply couldn't?

    2. Karlis 1

      Re: (Yawn)

      Good job on following the party line.

      Of course some of us might disagree with the notion that employees in a government agency (which is proving to be ungovernable) can have all of our life communications record at their disposal a single query away. Especially as Snowden has shown again and again that his claims are substantiated and has repeatedly described that these kind of queries are being made daily by low level staffers spying on their love interests, et cetera.

      But that's totally not spying. Nether is it spying the next time an important vote that might have an impact on the NSA or their friends in the commercial world comes up and key senators, hypothetically, receive a transcript or two of their anonymous communications (technically true - that's not spying, just plain old blackmail).

    3. Vimes

      Re: (Yawn)

      which is when the person concerned actually gets spied on

      No, it starts when they gather the information to get a hit from searches in the first place. Otherwise what data would the search algorithm be working on?

      Both Google and the government might like us to believe that it's not really spying if it's a machine doing it, but I suspect that a fair few people here would have problems with that definition.

    4. nsld
      Paris Hilton

      Re: (Yawn)

      So they do the spying first then go for a warrant to do more spying on the "probable cause" that a number was dialled.

      Nice work destroying your own argument in one sentence Matt, I think that may be a record.

      Paris, sharper than Matt....

      1. This post has been deleted by a moderator

  12. elDog

    Snooping on all banking/business transactions also

    National and international.

    Does that give this agency a good position for influencing trades, or at least benefiting by knowing what's coming down the pike?

    If they are involved in watching congress we can assume they are also monitoring all executive and judiciary communications. Who is watching the watchers? (Oh, yeah - the Chinese, Israelis, etc.)

  13. Eduard Coli

    Big $$$

    Eavesdropping on politicos is where the big money is and this has to be the main reason the various sub-contractors were involved.

  14. Marketing Hack Silver badge
    FAIL

    What really worries me about this...

    Is that the NSA might grant Congress and/or it's staffers some kind of exemption, and that in turn significantly reduces the movement for NSA reform. It's happened before on other laws. (*cough* Obamacare *cough*)

    Then we end up with a situation where surveillance is "only for the little people".

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

  15. R Cox

    been there, done that

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Tangled_Web

  16. Thomas Allen

    Of course they spy on Representatives and Senators

    Of course they spy on Representatives and Senators, as reps and senators often have shady foreign contacts.

    Congresspeople over the years have shown to be in contact with numerous terrorist groups, including those in overthrowing Georgia, infiltrating Iran, and various Palestinians. Also contacts with members of Israel's military and security services.

    This is a short list of obvious reasons NSA would target Congresspeople.

  17. tkioz

    This amuses me greatly. Of course they are spying on their 'masters', but they've got the best interests of the country at heart... honest.

    The Americans never seem to learn from history, first the FBI under Hoover now the NSA.

  18. T. F. M. Reader Silver badge

    This is how it should be

    The Members of the Congress should have exactly the same protection (from government spy agencies) as their constituents, and no more. Maybe that will help them actually understand the state of affairs.

  19. Dan 55 Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    It's too late now...

    This is the US' Merkel moment, it was tolerable for the little people but once politicians were found to be involved it suddenly became intolerable.

    And like her and the rest of us they've probably realised that there's very little they can do about it now.

  20. Crisp

    Didn't they do that all the time during the McCarthy era?

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but the FBI were watching all sorts of elected officials at the time.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So those guys are the real terrorists!

    Terrorists the ones who do damage to USA! Well now it makes sense why they would be spying on congress!

  22. Terry Cloth

    Maybe we'll finally get some privacy

    ``Members of Congress have the same privacy protections as all U.S. persons.''

    'Twould be nice if Congress decided that wasn't enough, and wrote some decent privacy laws. With our luck, though, they'll only apply to Congresspersons.

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