back to article We're spying on you for your own protection, says NSA, FBI

A new factsheet by the NSA and FBI has laid bare ludicrous contradictions in how US intelligence agencies choose to interpret a law designed to prevent spying on American citizens, but which they use to achieve exactly that end. While noting that the law specifically bans the gathering of information on US citizens, it then …

  1. Oh Homer
    Paris Hilton

    Such ambivalence

    It's so absurd it's almost Pythonesque.

    Maybe it's time for a new Four Yorkshiremen sketch, but with the (hopefully disembodied) heads of the three-letter agencies instead.

    1. Youngone Silver badge

      Re: Such ambivalence

      The FBI, NSA and the rest do not care if their explanations for breaking the law are not logically consistent.

      They know damn well that the oversight committee will ask a few questions, maybe huff and/or puff, then they will be allowed to continue with business as usual.

      They are all beyond the control of the agencies that are supposed to control them and they know it.

      1. bazza Silver badge

        Re: Such ambivalence

        They know damn well that the oversight committee will ask a few questions, maybe huff and/or puff, then they will be allowed to continue with business as usual.

        I know this won't be helpful, but it is worth considering the following.

        It's odd, because it never seems to be of great importance at election time. For all the fuss these things cause, most voters never seem consider the current law enforcement agencies' surveillance arrangements.

        If it really, truly mattered more than anything else one would think that it would be an election issue, resulting in a change of political opinion, and a change in the Executive's actions. But it never has. After all, if the executive does something which the electorate do not consent to, the election is there to allow change to be forced through. That's what elections are supposed to be about.

        There, I said it wouldn't be that helpful. Perhaps that's more of an observation of the overall worthiness of the election process...

        Having said that, someone has to keep an eye out for dangerous material (paedophilia, terrorist comes, harassed, etc). Over here on the Eastern side of the Atlantic there's a mood brewing about how terrible a job the companies (Facebook, Google, etc) are doing in policing the content they host. The companies' habits of pandering to American sensitivities about privacy isn't translating very well at the moment to European politics and societal expectations. If the companies don't shape up they're increasingly risking big fines, criminal prosecution, etc.

        Clamping down on the use of Facebook, etc, by bad guys is a live political issue here in Europe, and there is going to be change of some sort. Currently the companies have some choice in what that change is, but only for a short while. There's elections coming up in Europe, and security is a big issue here. One more big cock up by any of the companies could doom them to regulatory oversight that would make it very difficult to offer a global social network, video streaming service, etc.

        1. Kender30

          Re: Such ambivalence

          To tell the truth, what happens in Europe is the business of Europeans. The ability, out lack thereof, of companies to comply with your laws has no bearing on what our government agencies snooping where they have no business snooping. Privacy laws aside, with the amount of data that is being collected, there is no way of properly analyzing it. Things happen like to innocent activities together may look suspicious and consequently lead to trouble. Before the latest set of limits were placed on the the letter agencies, I almost lost my job because I needed clearance for an assignment at an airport. I had bought fertilizer for my lawn and filled up the tank in my diesel truck at the same site using the same credit card. I was flagged and watch listed for it because I also have degrees which entailed physics and chemistry... They thought I could have been building a fertilizer bomb despite the fact that I have a spotless record... Which, I later found out, is also a red flag. They expect everybody has done SOMETHING wrong and if you haven't gotten caught, you must be some sort of mastermind. Now, of they had also looked at the DMV records and my credit card history, they would have known I had a diesel and bought fuel at regular intervals and it would not have been as big a deal. I'm just one blip though and not worth the effort to follow through on. People regularly end up on no-fly lists for reasons just as stupid. With that in mind, I'm sorry, but I couldn't care less about Facebook's compliance with your snowflake video laws when it comes to unrelated snooping. As far as harassment goes, there are legal remedies for that, here. You file a complaint with the authorities. Pedos? There are other means we use to catch them and these breaches of our constitutional rights have yet to put somebody actually guilty of being a terrorist on the radar who wasn't already on the radar.

          1. bazza Silver badge

            Re: Such ambivalence


            "To tell the truth, what happens in Europe is the business of Europeans. The ability, out lack thereof, of companies to comply with your laws has no bearing on what our government agencies snooping where they have no business snooping."

            Indeed it doesn't. It's just that the contrast between societal and legal attitudes in Europe and the USA is going to become increasingly hard for the American-based social network companies to live with (and vice versa, except that there's aren't any notable European social network companies).

            " I had bought fertilizer for my lawn and filled up the tank in my diesel truck at the same site using the same credit card. I was flagged and watch listed for it because I also have degrees which entailed physics and chemistry..."

            Well, if such criteria were used as filters in the UK, it'd hoover up a load of grandmothers; they're often keen on horticulture, and diesel cars are very common, and more than a few of them would have science degrees these days. Whereas a grandmothers with an apparent fascination with handguns would be unusual and worthy of note, unlike the USA.

            Sounds like the system over in the US produces a lot of useless data, and very little information.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Such ambivalence

      It's ever so sublime; intelligence agencies and their massive lack of it, so just load up on the "agency" and hope for some intelligence, but none arrives. It's the secret world of the dunce spies, cheating their way to the arrest, not with hard/clever work, just hacking businesses and public networks so the agents need not set foot out into the dangerous world. James fucking Bong. Nice work, agent moldy! You got one guy in two decades using the NSA version of Google Crime Search! How did those FBI investigations of the people who listen to the song Louie Louie go in the 1960s? Millions of 1960s dollars pissed away for no good reason, much like the big Utah data center; a giant boondoggle of tax money pissed out into the Utah countryside, all under the guise of "national security." Well, la dee da. Now I know what I'm looking at when I see the agents in dark glasses; a highly trained dipshit, with a gun and a blank expression, and equally empty head. I fart in their general direction!

      "I've seen the competition, not a challenge."

      How can these places attract useful IT workers? Doesn't anybody have a clue that to work there you are basically ratting out the whole of the American people, so one or two bad guys can be caught, and it's not even clear what you work on has any relation to those arrests? Talk about lack of personal ethics. I guess to them they are saving the USandA. While they could go out to any public business and make tons more money and not be a creep. Just astonishing what some people will stoop to, to get a paycheck. And by all accounts, a pretty slim check. Must be the free flags and trips to Trump Resorts ("Where we didn't get hacked, I can personally tell you, we are hacker proof at Trump Brand Luxury Resorts and Golf Clubs, I mean it's probably just some kids messing around, you know how kids are, I will guarantee it with the FDIC, I'm not kidding. It'll be YUGE!" - DJ Trumpus)

    3. NoneSuch Silver badge


      If you are not American, or living outside the USA, you ARE subject to continual and constant monitoring in every medium you care to use.

  2. elDog

    Too late. The US government is pwned by its spawn

    "If Congress does its job properly, those contradictions will be removed and future-proofed before the intelligence agencies get their right to spy on US communications returned to them."

    Just like the foreign intel agencies, the ones that reside on US turf have plenty of ammo to make sure that no "representatives" of the people of the US will dare open their mouths.

    Maybe, just maybe, maybe in pre-Hellenic times, governments were pure and did what was best for their peons/serfs/voters. I doubt it. Same game - s/he who has the most dinaros or the biggest dings will prevail. Government is the new "keep them occupied" circus.

  3. Your alien overlord - fear me

    If the FBI wants to search the database for crimes committed by US citizens, on US soil, without all those legal requirements, why not tell the world (or at least Congress) how many crimes *have* been solved by their illegal activities and what those crimes where (i.e. parking fines or mass murder)? Surely they have a number for that?

    1. Captain DaFt

      "why not tell the world (or at least Congress) how many crimes *have* been solved by their illegal activities and what those crimes where (i.e. parking fines or mass murder)? Surely they have a number for that?"

      No, no they don't work like that. They're too busy hoovering up everyone else's data to keep track of their own.

      I mean, they can't even tell if someone working for them is accessing internal systems they shouldn't have access to, for release to the public.

      1. Baldy50


        If they're monitoring the backbone!

        If everyone was running a Tor relay or bridge would they have any idea where traffic was originating from, every exchange and every line would have to be tapped?

        Same goes for encryption, they'd be flummoxed, if we all used it that is! You've seen the length of some folks public keys, yes?

        If we weren't so lazy and more was taught in schools on how to protect ourselves in this fast-paced digital age this wouldn't be such a huge problem, for personal stuff at least.

        I'm sure the silk road and the crims etc are already on it.

        What was that movement a couple of years ago setting up teaching on how to encrypt, using Truecrypt I think?

  4. ratfox

    Makes sense

    It's illegal to gather data about US citizens; so they just hoover up all the data indiscriminately, then do specific queries for US citizens on the whole database, which is legal because they're just querying data by this point, not gathering it. Sounds legit.

    1. Schultz

      It's not data!

      " because they're just querying data by this point, not gathering it"

      It's even better, they never collected the data, because their understanding of collecting means someone has to look at it.

      Anyways, it's not really 'data', because data is an old roman word and they didn't even have computers back then. So cut them some slack!

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    As has been said before

    When Infowars becomes more of an accurate news source than BBC News, 1984 has arrived.

    In fact it arrived a long time ago, the sheeple do not realise it yet.

    Why else would many employers use biometric scanners, Orwellian "clockright" systems and other scumbaggery like penalizing people for toilet breaks?

    I am not going to say where I work, but suffice it to say my notice got handed in this morning in protest, because they just ordered another 8 of the damnable things. :-( :-(

    They waste about 2 minutes of my time every single day, thus defeating the whole point of such a device and generally driving me slowly demented to the point of first degree scannercide.

    AC, as intend to run for election in the UK shortly.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: As has been said before

      re AC, as intend to run for election in the UK shortly.

      Is your first name Louise?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: As has been said before

        Nope. :-)

        I did look into this, it seems as a technically-UK citizen I might be able to run for South West as an independent non-afffiliated candidate for the "Transhumanist" party, but good luck getting the forms done at this late stage.

        Policies so far:

        Abolish the current assumption-of-guilt benefits system and replace with UBI, because the robots are taking over so we might as well be prepared when it does happen.

        Serious funding into industrial scale mind uploading on a "Manhattan Project" level of importance with priority given to helping those with life expectancies less than 5-10 years

        Change focus of the NHS from treatment to prevention, ie encourage healthier lifestyles while also providing preventative medicine in the form of advanced technologies such as full body PET and MRI H-field scans which are uploaded in realtime to the cloud, so everyone benefits from the medical knowledge gained as analysis can be done by anyone with sufficient processing power.

        Try and encourage laws giving a "Machine Bill of Rights" and laying down legal precedent for the rights of those given artificial implants to be called "Cybernetic Humans" with their own unique needs and intentions as long as they do not conflict with basic human rights.

  6. Winkypop Silver badge

    Hiding illegal activity in plain sight

    Remember kids, these agencies are supposed to be the good guys.

    Do they also cross their fingers when making these statements?

  7. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    "It is worth noting, however, that Zazi was already under surveillance from US intelligence agencies thanks to his visits to Pakistan, so it's unclear what role the Section 702 data really played."

    Given that successful terrorists always seem to have been "known" to the intelligence services I suppose they could argue that this particular example proves that electronic surveillance is more effective than following up on known individuals. OTOH, of course, it doesn't appear that electronic surveillance of those known individuals who succeeded gained the services anything useful and it might have been better to have followed up on those rather than spending their resources in fishing expeditions, legal or otherwise, against the rest of humanity.

  8. Potemkine Silver badge

    "pas vu, pas pris"

    Who is not seen is not caught.

    So again, many thanks Mr. Snowden.

  9. Kender30

    This is ridiculous. I wish I had the backing to run for a major office. I'd work to put a stop to this real quick... This and Internet caps... And this crap about ISPs monetizing user data. If anybody should make money off of my user data on a service I pay a lot of money for, it should be me. Everybody had gone off the deep end with collecting data on everybody and it needs to stop.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "similar to a person searching an email inbox for a particular message"

    remarkably accurate description. A "person" searching YOUR email inbox"

  11. User McUser

    Spolier Alert - It's a lot

    The intelligence agencies claim that it affects very few US citizens and so Congress has persistently asked what that number is: how many US citizens are included in the 702 database?

    The US House Judiciary Committee first asked that question a year ago – April 2016. There is still no answer.

    I think we can safely assume that if it were a small number, say 100,000 or fewer, that they would have already told us the number because 100K out of 350M is a trivial amount (0.03%). So we must therefore assume that the number must be fairly large; millions or tens of millions at least.

    1. tekHedd

      Re: Spolier Alert - It's a lot

      "So we must therefore assume that the number must be fairly large; millions or tens of millions at least."

      Much easier to just say "all US Citizens", isn't it? For us, I mean, they can't seem to form the words.

    2. JaitcH

      Re: Spolier Alert - It's a lot

      You really, really, should invest in a dictionary - even if it's only a software add-on to your browser.

      Your spelling detracts from whatever subject you are writing about.

      1. User McUser

        Re: Spoiler Alert - It's a lot

        I'm so sorry that my transpositional typographical error has ruined your otherwise perfect day. Please accept my sincerest apologies.

      2. Jeffrey Nonken

        Re: Spolier Alert - It's a lot

        In your next comment you go on to use a possessive "its" with an apostrophe. You might want to check the log in your own eye.

  12. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    A classic civil service paper

    8 pages of boring honesty they stuff the self serving illegal BS in the back.

    And oh yes "We're so busy hoovering up every bodies information we can't check who are US citizens. And since we now have them anyway we can run a query on that data, but it's not like it's a real search, that needs a Warrant, oh no."

    Here's a notion.

    Run a query to find all US citizens in the database.

    Delete their records from the data

    Do a full backup of the DB excluding all deleted records.

    Delete all previous backups.

    Restore from the last backup.IE this one.

    So all US citizen records have been deleted from the DB and it should run much faster as well.

    I think we could tell wheather or not they would be prepared to do that (and be watched while they did it by competent observers) who they really want to spy on.

  13. JaitcH

    The Biggest Difference Between British and American Spying is . . .

    The British government and it's many spook agencies are liars, treat the public like serfs, and are totally bereft of morals.

    Of course, British law is totally 'bent' - it permits government witnesses to lie.

    The American government system appears to be more transparent and there is always the Constitution. What everyone needs are more Ron Wydens and Edward Snowdens.

    And far fewer Ryfkinds, MAYs and bLIARs.

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Government witnesses do not need to lie - they can just follow Sir Humphrey's example.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The general public is ignorant

    The masses and many hacks fail to comprehend how the real world functions. The U.S. Constitution forbids "unreasonable" surveillance. No where is it law that U.S. citizens, illegal aliens or foreigners living or traveling to the U.S. can not be subjected to surveillance for crime, terrorism or other legitimate reasons. In fact all nations monitor those people who they feel may be a treat to the populace be it citizens or foreigners.

    The naïve only see the perceived underworld not the actual everyday crime, terrorism, international espionage, etc. not the real underworld which would shock most citizens. If not for the actions of tens of thousands of security personnel and authorities conducting their daily research and surveillance, the world would be a much more dangerous place to live. Authorities typically don't disclose the majority of interventions to protect the populace as the volume of incidents is so high that the media would go "postal" and claim the sky is falling. The hysteria would be self destructive so it's better to not excite the naïve because most of them simply can not handle the truth. They live in a relative safe, secure world oblivious to reality.

  15. captain_solo

    Hey Ministry of Silly Walks!

    -You can only charge me for petty larceny on that bank robbery you accused me of because I only incidentally collected all that cash and actually went sorting through looking for targeted selector serial numbers to get enough cash to buy a Black and Tan

    I wonder if there is a way to leverage these suspicious legal theories to the advantage of the people?

    Yeah, probably not.

    1. dm_dv

      No statute

      Re: Hey Ministry of Silly Walks!

      Of course because there's no statute of limitations on fraud.

      That's why Peter Thiels company pay-pal gets away with so much of it!

      Only now they're realizing how badly they've screwed up... So badly that even the British spies themselves are running an open web-blog about how little anyone in any department can trust Google when all there own government websites now support a Google capture portal.

      Fiber splitters, I've seen the tech manual about how to install those, it's actually pretty simple!

  16. dm_dv


    Biggest load of complete garbage I've ever heard, only for your protection, so breaking crypto putting everyones communications at risk and back-dooring the SWIFT banking system is about keeping people safe is it? REALLY.. Well holy shit, thank goodness we can all download things like ArkOS and BSD and Linux and Windows and Vault7 so we can return the same favors to the masses and keep all the spies safe by spying on them, for there own safety! "Kali" and meta-exploit all the things!

    Vulture Framework - Debian Repositories & FreeeBSD = XKeyScore

    ArkOS - from Google with GENESIS framework = ARK STREAM

    Oh it'll get better & better, I feel safer already!

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I am above the law

    And that's all you need to know.

    Now approve my budget or we'll false flag you to death.

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