Americans Swept Up in NSA Dragnet

Happy Fourth of July weekend! I hope and trust you had a great Fourth!!

As my associate Chris Peterson stated yesterday, “We live in the greatest country on earth.”

I believe that is true and I hope that you believe it as well.

I also believe it’s our duty as Americans to strive each and every day to preserve the freedom that is our birthright.

Because I believe in our birthright of freedom, I’d like to bring an important development in the ongoing revelations about the National Security Agency to your attention.

Last night, the Washington Post revealed that, at the very least, hundreds of thousands of innocent Americans are being swept up in the NSA’s electronic communications dragnet.

The report, “In NSA-intercepted data, those not targeted far outnumber the foreigners who are,” begins:

Ordinary Internet users, American and non-American alike, far outnumber legally targeted foreigners in the communications intercepted by the National Security Agency from U.S. digital networks, according to a four-month investigation by The Washington Post.

Nine of 10 account holders found in a large cache of intercepted conversations, which former NSA contractor Edward Snowden provided in full to The Post, were not the intended surveillance targets but were caught in a net the agency had cast for somebody else.

Many of them were Americans. Nearly half of the surveillance files, a strikingly high proportion, contained names, e-mail addresses or other details that the NSA marked as belonging to U.S. citizens or residents. NSA analysts masked, or “minimized,” more than 65,000 such references to protect Americans’ privacy, but The Post found nearly 900 additional e-mail addresses, unmasked in the files, that could be strongly linked to U.S. citizens or U.S. residents.

The surveillance files highlight a policy dilemma that has been aired only abstractly in public. There are discoveries of considerable intelligence value in the intercepted messages — and collateral harm to privacy on a scale that the Obama administration has not been willing to address.”

While there is considerable and worthwhile intelligence being developed about enemies of the United States, there is also a tremendous amount of personal information and communications of completely innocent and unsuspecting Americans being obtained and stored by the NSA.

As The Post notes about the types of information being intercepted about perfectly innocent Americans:

Many other files, described as useless by the analysts but nonetheless retained, have a startlingly intimate, even voyeuristic quality. They tell stories of love and heartbreak, illicit sexual liaisons, mental-health crises, political and religious conversions, financial anxieties and disappointed hopes. The daily lives of more than 10,000 account holders who were not targeted are catalogued and recorded nevertheless. …

One program, code-named PRISM, extracts content stored in user accounts at Yahoo, Microsoft, Facebook, Google and five other leading Internet companies. Another, known inside the NSA as Upstream, intercepts data on the move as it crosses the U.S. junctions of global voice and data networks. …

Scores of pictures show infants and toddlers in bathtubs, on swings, sprawled on their backs and kissed by their mothers. In some photos, men show off their physiques. In others, women model lingerie, leaning suggestively into a webcam or striking risqué poses in shorts and bikini tops.”

So what’s the bottom line and what does it mean for Americans like you and me?

It’s quite simple. When it comes to U.S. government surveillance operations, as currently directed by the administration of President Barack Obama, every American’s electronic communications – including Americans who have never done anything wrong in their entire life – are at significant risk of being intercepted, reviewed, cataloged and stored.

It really is that simple.

It really is that troubling.

So what can we as patriotic Americans – who believe in both protecting the liberty that is our birthright AND the defense of our country against foreign and domestic enemies – do to protect our freedom?

Certainly we can take steps to better protect our communications against interception. We discuss that quite a bit here at the Self-Reliance Institute, and I’ll always provide you with the latest information about those steps so that you can protect your and your family’s communications to the degree possible.

But beyond those steps, we must also educate ourselves about which of our political “leaders” are truly committed to supporting and defending the Constitution of the United States. And, in so doing, we must work to elect representatives who will protect our freedom.

After all, isn’t our freedom what makes us different – better! – than every other country on earth?

OK. It seems I jumped up on the soapbox. I’ll climb back down.

Still, I’d love to hear what you think. Please email me at[email protected] and let me know if you think the NSA, as currently directed by the Obama administration, has gone too far by intercepting and storing the electronic communications of Americans.

Be safe and secure,

Rob Douglas

PS – Here’s an article, “Digital Independence Day: Your guide to DIY, open-source, anonymous free computing,” that you may want to review for information that may be helpful. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not going to keep the prying eyes of the NSA away. But, it does contain some useful information that I thought you might be able to put to good use. Personally, I use articles like this one as a benchmark to see how what I’m doing stacks up against what the author suggests. So, in that vein, take a look.

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