< /head > Colorado Coalition for Human Rights: N.S.A. Spying Program Has Netted Purely Domestic Calls

Thursday, December 22, 2005

N.S.A. Spying Program Has Netted Purely Domestic Calls

According to the New York Times, the National Security Agency's domestic eavesdropping program has been used to monitor purely domestic communications without required court warrants. The N.S.A. program, approved by President Bush in 2001, allows the N.S.A to eavesdrop on communications in the United States without normal court warrants, provided that both people engaging in the communication are not in the United States. The spying on purely domestic communications was apparently unintentional (i.e. N.S.A. officials have blamed the spying on technical and logistical mistakes). Nonetheless, if the N.S.A.'s program is incapable of complying with the President's directive -- a directive which itself raises serious constitutional questions about the power of the executive branch -- then it is probably in dire need of judicial oversight.

Here are some excerpts from the article:

Officials say the National Security Agency's interception of a small number of communications between people within the United States was apparently accidental, and was caused by technical glitches at the National Security Agency in determining whether a communication was in fact "international."

Telecommunications experts say the issue points up troubling logistical questions about the program. At a time when communications networks are increasingly globalized, it is sometimes difficult even for the N.S.A. to determine whether someone is inside or outside the United States when making a cellphone call or sending an e-mail message. As a result, people that the security agency may think are outside the United States are actually on American soil.

Eavesdropping on communications between two people who are both inside the United States is prohibited under Mr. Bush's order allowing some domestic surveillance.

But in at least one instance, someone using an international cellphone was thought to be outside the United States when in fact both people in the conversation were in the country. Officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the program remains classified, would not discuss the number of accidental intercepts, but the total is thought to represent a very small fraction of the total number of wiretaps that Mr. Bush has authorized without getting warrants. In all, officials say the program has been used to eavesdrop on as many as 500 people at any one time, with the total number of people reaching perhaps into the thousands in the last three years.

Mr. Bush and his senior aides have emphasized since the disclosure of the program's existence last week that the president's executive order applied only to cases where one party on a call or e-mail message was outside the United States.

National security and telecommunications experts said that even if the N.S.A. seeks to adhere closely to the rules that Mr. Bush has set, the logistics of the program may make it difficult to ensure that the rules are being followed.
With roaming cellphones, internationally routed e-mail, and voice-over Internet technology, "it's often tough to find out where a call started and ended," said Robert Morris, a former senior scientist at the N.S.A. who is retired. "The N.S.A. is good at it, but it's difficult even for them. Where a call actually came from is often a mystery."

Click here to read the entire article.

-- JB


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