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Mass surveillance in the United States


Mass surveillance in the United States

The practice of mass surveillance in the United States dates back to civil rights activists. The formation of the ECHELON collaboration of five English-speaking nations in the latter half of the 1940s focused on interception of electronic communications, with substantial increases in surveillance capabilities described as necessary for thwarting terrorism following the September 11th attacks of 2001. A series of media reports in 2013 revealed more recent programs and techniques employed by the US intelligence community. Advances in computer and information technology allow the creation of huge national databases that facilitate mass surveillance in the United States.[1][2]


  • History 1
    • Wartime censorship and surveillance 1.1
    • Black Chamber 1.2
    • Project SHAMROCK 1.3
    • National Security Agency (NSA) 1.4
    • Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) 1.5
    • Church committee review 1.6
    • ECHELON 1.7
    • Escalation following the September 11th attacks of 2001 1.8
    • Acceleration of media leaks (2010–present) 1.9
    • 2013 mass surveillance disclosures 1.10
    • H.R.4681 - Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015 1.11
  • Modalities, concepts, and methods 2
    • Logging postal mail 2.1
    • Wiretapping 2.2
      • Legal foundations 2.2.1
      • Internet communications 2.2.2
      • Intelligence apparatus to monitor Americans 2.2.3
      • Telephones 2.2.4
      • Infiltration of smartphones 2.2.5
    • Data mining of subpoenaed records 2.3
    • Surveillance cameras 2.4
    • Surveillance drones 2.5
    • Infiltration of activist groups 2.6
    • International cooperation 2.7
  • Uses of intercepted data 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6


Wartime censorship and surveillance

During the world wars of the 20th century, all international mail sent through the U.S. Postal Service and international cables sent through companies such as Western Union, ITT, and RCA were reviewed by the US military.[3] During World War II, first the War Department and later the Office of Censorship monitored "communications by mail, cable, radio, or other means of transmission passing between the United States and any foreign country".[4] In 1942 this included the 350,000 overseas cables and telegrams and 25,000 international telephone calls made each week.[5]:144 "Every letter that crossed international or U.S. territorial borders from December 1941 to August 1945 was subject to being opened and scoured for details."[4]

Black Chamber

1919: The U.S. Army and the U.S. Department of State. It conducted peacetime decryption of material including diplomatic communications until 1929.[6][7]


1945: The now-defunct Project SHAMROCK was created to gather all telegraphic data entering into or exiting from the United States.[6][8] Major communication companies such as Western Union, RCA Global and ITT World Communications actively aided the U.S. government in the latter's attempt to gain access to international message traffic.[9]

National Security Agency (NSA)

At the request of the U.S. Army, those who protested against the Vietnam War were put on the NSA's "watch list".[9]

1952: Seven years later, the National Security Agency (NSA) was officially established.[6] According to The New York Times, the NSA was created in "absolute secrecy" by President Truman.[10] Six weeks after President Truman took office, he ordered wiretaps on the telephones of Thomas Gardiner Corcoran, a close advisor of Franklin D. Roosevelt.[11] The recorded conversations are currently kept at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum, along with other sensitive documents (~233,600 pages). In addition, the FBI kept a dossier on First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who spoke out against anti-Japanese prejudice during the second world war, and was a vocal supporter of the civil rights movement. The 3,000-page FBI dossier on Eleanor Roosevelt reveals the government's close monitoring of her activities and writings, and contains charges against her for suspected Communist activities.[12][13]

Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)

As the extent of the FBI's domestic surveillance continued to grow, many celebrities were also secretly investigated by the bureau, including:

  • Frank Sinatra - His 1,300 page FBI dossier, dating from 1943, contains allegations about Sinatra's possible ties to the American Communist Party. The FBI spent several decades tracking Sinatra and his associates.[14][15]
  • Marilyn Monroe - Her FBI dossier begins in 1955 and continues up until the months before her death. It focuses mostly on her travels and associations, searching for signs of leftist views and possible ties to communism.[16] Her ex-husband, Arthur Miller, was also monitored. Monroe's FBI dossier is "heavily censored", but a "reprocessed" version has been released by the FBI to the public.[16]
  • John Lennon - In 1971, shortly after Lennon arrived in the United States on a visa to meet up with anti-war activists, the FBI placed Lennon under surveillance, and the U.S. government tried to deport him from the country.[17] At that time, opposition to the Vietnam War had reached a peak and Lennon often showed up at political rallies to sing his anti-war anthem "Give Peace a Chance".[17] The U.S. government argued that Lennon's 300 page FBI dossier was particularly sensitive because its release may "lead to foreign diplomatic, economic and military retaliation against the United States",[18] and therefore only approved a "heavily censored" version.[19]
  • The Beatles, of which John Lennon was a member, had a separate FBI dossier.
Some of the greatest historical figures of the 20th century, including several U.S. citizens, were placed under warrantless surveillance for the purpose of character assassination - a process that aims to destroy the credibility and reputation of a person, institution, or nation.

Left: Albert Einstein, who supported the anti-war movement and opposed nuclear proliferation, was a member of numerous civil rights groups including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (See Albert Einstein's political views). As a result of his political views, Einstein was subjected to telephone tapping, and his mail was searched by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) as part of a secret government campaign that aimed to link him with a Soviet espionage ring in order to first discredit him, and then deport him (unsuccessfully) from the United States.[20][21][22]

Center: Martin Luther King, Jr., a leader of the African-American Civil Rights Movement, was the target of an intensive campaign by the FBI to "neutralize" him as an effective civil rights activist.[23] A FBI memo recognized King to be the "most dangerous and effective Negro leader in the country.",[24] and the agency wanted to discredit him by collecting evidence to (unsuccessfully) prove that he had been influenced by communism.[24]

Right: Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers to the media in 1971, experienced one of the most spectacular episodes of government surveillance and character assassination. The White House tried to steal his medical records and other possibly detrimental information by sending a special unit to break into the office of Ellsberg's psychiatrist.[25][26] These activities were later uncovered during the course of investigation as the Watergate scandal slowly unfolded, which eventually led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon.[27]

See also: The FBI kept a dossier on Albert Einstein (~1,500 pages) and Martin Luther King, Jr. ( ~17,000 pages). Due to a court order, however, some information has been removed and many other pages will not be released until the year 2027.[28]

1967–73: The now-defunct Project MINARET was created to spy on U.S. citizens. At the request of the U.S. Army, those who protested against the Vietnam War were put on the NSA's "watch list".[9]

The Church Committee of the United States Senate published the final report on "Intelligence Activities and the Rights of Americans" in 1976 (PDF, 26.54 MB)
From 1940 until his death in 1966, the American business magnate Walt Disney served as a "S.A.C. Contact" (trusted informant) for the U.S. government to weed out communists and dissidents from the entertainment industry, according to documents obtained by The New York Times.[29]
See also: Hollywood blacklist

Church committee review

1975: The Church Committee of the United States Senate was set up to investigate widespread intelligence abuses by the NSA, CIA and FBI.[6] Domestic surveillance, authorizied by the highest executive branch of the federal government, spanned from the FDR Administration to the Presidency of Richard Nixon. The following examples were reported by the Church Committee:

  • President Roosevelt asked the FBI to put in its files the names of citizens sending telegrams to the White House opposing his "national defense" policy and supporting Col. Charles Lindbergh.[30]
  • President Truman received inside information on a former Roosevelt aide's efforts to influence his appointments, labor union negotiating plans, and the publishing plans of journalists.[30]
  • President Eisenhower received reports on purely political and social contacts with foreign officials by Bernard Baruch, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas.[30]
  • The Kennedy administration ordered the FBI to wiretap a congressional staff member, three executive officials, a lobbyist, and a Washington law firm. US Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy received data from a FBI wire tap on Martin Luther King, Jr. and an electronic listening device targeting a congressman, both of which yielded information of a political nature.[30]
  • President Johnson asked the FBI to conduct "name checks" of his critics and members of the staff of his 1964 opponent, Senator Barry Goldwater. He also requested purely political intelligence on his critics in the Senate, and received extensive intelligence reports on political activity at the 1964 Democratic Convention from FBI electronic surveillance.[30]
  • President Nixon authorized a program of wiretaps which produced for the White House purely political or personal information unrelated to national security, including information about a Supreme Court justice.[30]

The Final Report (Book II) of the Church Committee revealed the following statistics:

  • Over 26,000 individuals were at one point catalogued on an FBI list of persons to be rounded up in the event of a "national emergency".[30]
  • Over 500,000 domestic intelligence files were kept at the FBI headquarters, of which 65,000 of were opened in 1972 alone.[30]
  • At least 130,000 first class letters were opened and photographed by the FBI from 1940 to 1966.[30]
  • A quarter of a million first class letters were opened and photographed by the CIA from 1953 to 1973.[30]
  • Millions of private telegrams sent from, to, or through the United States were obtained by the National Security Agency (NSA), under a secret arrangement with U.S. telegraph companies, from 1947 to 1975.[30]
  • Over 100,000 Americans have been indexed in U.S. Army intelligence files.[30]
  • About 300,000 individuals were indexed in a CIA computer system during the course of Operation CHAOS.[30]
  • Intelligence files on more than 11,000 individuals and groups were created by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), with tax investigations "done on the basis of political rather than tax criteria".[30]

In response to the committee's findings, the FISA Court was established by the United States Congress to issue surveillance warrants.[31] Several decades later in 2013, the presiding judge of the FISA Court, Reggie Walton, told The Washington Post that the court only has a limited ability to supervise the government's surveillance, and is therefore "forced" to rely upon the accuracy of the information that is provided by federal agents.[32]

On August 17, 1975 Senator Frank Church stated on NBC's "Meet the Press" without mentioning the name of the NSA about this agency:


In 1988, an article titled "Somebody's listening" by Duncan Campbell in the New Statesman, described the signals intelligence gathering activities of a program code-named "ECHELON".[36] The program was engaged by English-speaking World War II Allied powers Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States (collectively known as AUSCANNZUKUS). It was created to monitor the military and diplomatic communications of the Soviet Union and its Eastern Bloc allies during the Cold War in the early 1960s.[37]

By the 1990s the ECHELON system was capable of intercepting satellite transmissions, public switched telephone network (PSTN) communications (including most Internet traffic), and transmissions carried by microwave. A detailed description of ECHELON was provided by New Zealand journalist Nicky Hager in his 1996 book "Secret Power". While the existence of ECHELON was denied by some member governments, a report by a committee of the European Parliament in 2001 confirmed the program's use and warned Europeans about its reach and effects.[38] The European Parliament stated in its report that the term "ECHELON" was used in a number of contexts, but that the evidence presented indicated it was a signals intelligence collection system capable of interception and content inspection of telephone calls, fax, e-mail and other data traffic globally.[37]

The capabilities of ECHELON were further described by James Bamford in Body of Secrets about the National Security Agency.[39] Intelligence monitoring of citizens, and their communications, in the area covered by the AUSCANNZUKUS security agreement have, over the years, caused considerable public concern.[40][41]

NSA key to (Microsoft) Windows: an open question
  • Microsoft operating systems have a backdoor entrance for the National Security Agency, a cryptography expert said Friday, but the software giant denied the report and other experts differed on it.
  • The chief scientist at an Internet security company said Microsoft built in a "key" for the nation's most powerful intelligence agency to the cryptographic standard used in Microsoft Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows NT4 and Windows2000.
- CNN, September 1999[42]

Escalation following the September 11th attacks of 2001

The September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon led to major reforms of U.S. intelligence agencies, and paved the way for the establishment of the Director of National Intelligence position
On 1 January 2006, days after The New York Times wrote that "Bush Lets U.S. Spy on Callers Without Courts,[44] the President emphasized that "This is a limited program designed to prevent attacks on the United States of America. And I repeat, limited."[45]

In the aftermath of the September 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, bulk domestic spying in the United States increased dramatically. The desire to prevent future attacks of this scale led to the passage of the Patriot Act. Later acts include the Protect America Act (which removes the warrant requirement for government surveillance of foreign targets)[46] and the FISA Amendments Act (which relaxed some of the original FISA court requirements).

In 2002, "Total Information Awareness" was established by the U.S. government in order to "revolutionize the ability of the United States to detect, classify and identify foreign terrorists".[47]

In 2005, a report about President Bush's President's Surveillance Program appeared in the New York Times. According to reporters James Risen and Eric Lichtblau, the actual publication of their report was delayed for a year because "The White House asked The New York Times not to publish this article".[44]

Also in 2005, the existence of STELLARWIND was revealed by Thomas Tamm. In 2006, Mark Klein revealed the existence of Room 641A that he had wired back in 2003.[48] In 2008, Babak Pasdar, a computer security expert, and CEO of Bat Blue publicly revealed the existence of the "Quantico circuit", that he and his team found in 2003. He described it as a back door to the federal government in the systems of an unnamed wireless provider; the company was later independently identified as Verizon.[49]

You Are a Suspect
  • Every purchase you make with a credit card, every magazine subscription you buy and medical prescription you fill, every Web site you visit and e-mail you send or receive, every academic grade you receive, every bank deposit you make, every trip you book and every event you attend -- all these transactions and communications will go into what the Defense Department describes as a virtual, centralized grand database. To this computerized dossier on your private life from commercial sources, add every piece of information that government has about you -- passport application, driver's license and toll records, judicial and divorce records, complaints from nosy neighbors to the F.B.I., your lifetime paper trail plus the latest hidden camera surveillance -- and you have the supersnoop's dream: a Total Information Awareness about every U.S. citizen.
  • This is not some far-out Orwellian scenario. It is what will happen to your personal freedom in the next few weeks if John Poindexter gets the unprecedented power he seeks.".
- The New York Times, November 2002[50]
Trading on the Future of Terror
  • The war on terrorism has come to this: The Pentagon is setting up a commodity-style market to use real investors -- putting down real money -- to help its generals predict terrorist attacks, coups d'etat and other turmoil in the Middle East.
  • "Two angry senators disclosed the program, called the
  • "Can you imagine if another country set up a betting parlor so that people could ... bet on the
  • Poindexter and other senior DARPA officials could not be reached for comment. But in a statement, DARPA said it "is exploring new ways to help analysts predict and thereby prevent terrorist attacks through the use of futures market mechanisms. Research indicates that markets are extremely efficient, effective and timely aggregators of dispersed and even hidden information."".
- The Los Angeles Times, July 2003[51]

The NSA's database of American's phone calls was made public in 2006 by USA Today journalist Leslie Cauley in an article titled, "NSA has massive database of Americans' phone calls."[52] The article cites anonymous sources that described the program's reach on American citizens: " means that the government has detailed records of calls they made — across town or across the country — to family members, co-workers, business contacts and others. The three telecommunications companies are working under contract with the NSA, which launched the program in 2001 shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks." The report failed to generate discussion of privacy rights in the media and was not referenced by Greenwald or the Washington Post in any of their reporting.

In 2009, The New York Times cited several anonymous intelligence officials alleging that "the N.S.A. made Americans targets in eavesdropping operations based on insufficient evidence tying them to terrorism" and "the N.S.A. tried to wiretap a member of Congress without a warrant".[53]

Acceleration of media leaks (2010–present)

On 15 March 2012, the American magazine Wired published an article with the headline "The NSA Is Building the Country's Biggest Spy Center (Watch What You Say)",[54] which was later mentioned by U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson during a congressional hearing. In response to Johnson's inquiry, NSA director Keith B. Alexander testified that these allegations made by Wired magazine were untrue:

2013 mass surveillance disclosures

On 6 June 2013, Britain's The Guardian newspaper began publishing a series of revelations by an unnamed American whistleblower, revealed several days later to be former CIA and NSA-contracted systems analyst Edward Snowden. Snowden gave a cache of internal documents in support of his claims to two journalists: Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, Greenwald later estimated that the cache contains 15,000 – 20,000 documents, some very large and very detailed, and some very small.[56][57] This was one of the largest news leaks in the modern history of the United States.[58] In over two months of publications, it became clear that the NSA operates a complex web of spying programs which allow it to intercept internet and telephone conversations from over a billion users from dozens of countries around the world. Specific revelations have been made about China, the European Union, Latin America, Iran and Pakistan, and Australia and New Zealand, however the published documentation reveals that many of the programs indiscriminately collect bulk information directly from central servers and internet backbones, which almost invariably carry and reroute information from distant countries.

Due to this central server and backbone monitoring, many of the programs overlap and interrelate among one another. These programs are often done with the assistance of US entities such as the United States Department of Justice and the FBI,[59] are sanctioned by US laws such as the FISA Amendments Act, and the necessary court orders for them are signed by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. In addition to this, many of the NSA's programs are directly aided by national and foreign intelligence services, Britain's GCHQ and Australia's DSD, as well as by large private telecommunications and internet corporations, such as Verizon, Telstra,[60] Google and Facebook.[61]

On 9 June 2013, Edward Snowden told The Guardian:

"They (the NSA) can use the system to go back in time and scrutinize every decision you've ever made, every friend you've ever discussed something with, and attack you on that basis to sort of derive suspicion from an innocent life and paint anyone in the context of a wrongdoer"
— Edward Snowden[62]

The US government has aggressively sought to dismiss and challenge Fourth Amendment cases raised: Hepting v. AT&T, Jewel v. NSA, Clapper v. Amnesty International, Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation v. Obama and Center for Constitutional Rights v. Obama. The government has also granted retroactive immunity to ISPs and telecoms participating in domestic surveillance.[63][64]

The US district court judge for the District of Columbia, Richard Leon, declared[65][66][67][68][69][70] on December 16, 2013 that the mass collection of metadata of Americans’ telephone records by the National Security Agency probably violates the fourth amendment prohibition unreasonable searches and seizures.[71] “Given the limited record before me at this point in the litigation – most notably, the utter lack of evidence that a terrorist attack has ever been prevented because searching the NSA database was faster than other investigative tactics – I have serious doubts about the efficacy of the metadata collection program as a means of conducting time-sensitive investigations in cases involving imminent threats of terrorism.”[72] “Plaintiffs have a substantial likelihood of showing that their privacy interests outweigh the government’s interest in collecting and analysing bulk telephony metadata and therefore the NSA’s bulk collection program is indeed an unreasonable search under the fourth amendment,” he wrote.[72]

"The Fourth Amendment typically requires 'a neutral and detached authority be interposed between the police and the public,' and it is offended by 'general warrants' and laws that allow searches to be conducted 'indiscriminately and without regard to their connections with a crime under investigation,'" he wrote.[73] He added: "I cannot imagine a more 'indiscriminate' and 'arbitrary invasion' than this systematic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every single citizen for purposes of querying and analyzing it without prior judicial approval. Surely such a program infringes on 'that degree of privacy' that the founders enshrined in the Fourth Amendment. Indeed I have little doubt that the author of our Constitution, James Madison, who cautioned us to beware 'the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power,' would be aghast."[73]

Leon granted the request for a preliminary injunction that blocks the collection of phone data for two private plaintiffs (Larry Klayman, a conservative lawyer, and Charles Strange, father of a cryptologist killed in Afghanistan when his helicopter was shot down in 2011)[72] and ordered the government to destroy any of their records that have been gathered. But the judge stayed action on his ruling pending a government appeal, recognizing in his 68-page opinion the “significant national security interests at stake in this case and the novelty of the constitutional issues.”[71]

H.R.4681 - Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015

On 20 May 2014, U.S. Representative for Michigan's 8th congressional district Republican congressman Mike Rogers introduced Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015 with the goal of authorizing appropriations for fiscal years 2014 and 2015 for intelligence and intelligence-related activities of the United States Government, the Community Management Account, and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Retirement and Disability System, and for other purposes.

Some of it's measures cover the limitation on retention.--A covered communication (meaning any nonpublic telephone or electronic communication acquired without the consent of a person who is a party to the communication, including communications in electronic storage) shall not be retained in excess of 5 years, unless:(i) the communication has been affirmatively determined, in whole or in part, to constitute foreign intelligence or counterintelligence or is necessary to understand or assess foreign intelligence or counterintelligence; (ii) the communication is reasonably believed to constitute evidence of a crime and is retained by a law enforcement agency; (iii) the communication is enciphered or reasonably believed to have a secret meaning; (iv) all parties to the communication are reasonably believed to be non-United States persons; (v) retention is necessary to protect against an imminent threat to human life, in which case both the nature of the threat and the information to be retained shall be reported to the congressional intelligence committees not later than 30 days after the date such retention is extended under this clause; (vi) retention is necessary for technical assurance or compliance purposes, including a court order or discovery obligation, in which case access to information retained for technical assurance or compliance purposes shall be reported to the congressional intelligence committees on an annual basis; or (vi) retention is necessary for technical assurance or compliance purposes, including a court order or discovery obligation, in which case access to information retained for technical assurance or compliance purposes shall be reported to the congressional intelligence committees on an annual basis; or (vii) retention for a period in excess of 5 years is approved by the head of the element of the intelligence community responsible for such retention, based on a determination that retention is necessary to protect the national security of the United States, in which case the head of such element shall provide to the congressional intelligence committees a written certification describing-- (I) the reasons extended retention is necessary to protect the national security of the United States; (II) the duration for which the head of the element is authorizing retention; (III) the particular information to be retained; and (IV) the measures the element of the intelligence community is taking to protect the privacy interests of United States persons or persons located inside the United States.[74]

On 10 December 2014, Republican U.S. Representative for Michigan's 3rd congressional district member of Congress Justin Amash criticized the act on his Facebook as being "one of the most egregious sections of law I've encountered during my time as a representative" and "It grants the executive branch virtually unlimited access to the communications of every American.".[75]

On 11 December 2014, a petition was created on We the People section of the website petitioning the Obama administration to veto the law.

Modalities, concepts, and methods

Official seal of the Information Awareness Office -- a U.S. agency which developed technologies for mass surveillance

Logging postal mail

Under the Mail Isolation Control and Tracking program, the U.S. Postal Service photographs the exterior of every piece of paper mail that is processed in the United States — about 160 billion pieces in 2012. The U.S. Postmaster General stated that the system is primarily used for mail sorting, but the images are available for possible use by law enforcement agencies.[76] Created in 2001 following the anthrax attacks that killed five people, it is a sweeping expansion of a 100-year-old program called "mail cover" which targets people suspected of crimes. Together, the two programs show that postal mail is subject to the same kind of scrutiny that the National Security Agency gives to telephone calls, e-mail, and other forms of electronic communication.[77]

Mail cover surveillance requests are granted for about 30 days, and can be extended for up to 120 days. Images captured under the Mail Isolation Control and Tracking program are retained for a week to 30 days and then destroyed.[76] There are two kinds of mail covers: those related to criminal activity and those requested to protect national security. Criminal activity requests average 15,000 to 20,000 per year, while the number of requests for national security mail covers has not been made public. Neither the Mail Isolation Control and Tracking program nor the mail cover program require prior approval by a judge. For both programs the information gathered is metadata from the outside of the envelope or package for which courts have said there is no expectation of privacy. Opening the mail to view its contents would require a warrant approved by a judge.[77]


Billions of dollars per year are spent, by agencies such as the Information Awareness Office, National Security Agency, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, to develop, purchase, implement, and operate systems such as Carnivore, ECHELON, and NarusInsight to intercept and analyze the immense amount of data that traverses the Internet and telephone system every day.[78]

The Total Information Awareness program, of the Information Awareness Office, designed numerous technologies to be used to perform mass surveillance. Examples include advanced speech-to-text programs (so that phone conversations can be monitored en-masse by a computer, instead of requiring human operators to listen to them), social network analysis software to monitor groups of people and their interactions with each other, and "Human identification at a distance" software which allows computers to identify people on surveillance cameras by their facial features and gait (the way they walk). The program was later renamed "Terrorism Information Awareness", after a negative public reaction.

Legal foundations

The Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) requires that all U.S. telecommunications companies modify their equipment to allow easy wiretapping of telephone, VoIP, and broadband internet traffic.[79][80][81]

In 1999 two models of mandatory data retention were suggested for the US: What IP address was assigned to a customer at a specific time. In the second model, "which is closer to what Europe adopted", telephone numbers dialed, contents of Web pages visited, and recipients of e-mail messages must be retained by the ISP for an unspecified amount of time.[82][83] In 2006 the International Association of Chiefs of Police adopted a resolution calling for a "uniform data retention mandate" for "customer subscriber information and source and destination information."[84] The U.S. Department of Justice announced in 2011 that criminal investigations "are being frustrated" because no law currently exists to force Internet providers to keep track of what their customers are doing.[85]

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has an ongoing lawsuit (Hepting v. AT&T) against the telecom giant AT&T Inc. for its assistance to the U.S. government in monitoring the communications of millions of American citizens. It has managed thus far to keep the proceedings open. Recently the documents, exposed by a whistleblower who previously worked for AT&T, showing schematics of the massive data mining system were made public.[86][87]

Internet communications

The FBI developed the computer programs "Magic Lantern" and CIPAV, which they can remotely install on a computer system, in order to monitor a person's computer activity.[88]

The NSA has been gathering information on financial records, internet surfing habits, and monitoring e-mails. They have also performed extensive surveillance on social networks such as Facebook.[89] Recently, Facebook has revealed that, in the last six months of 2012, they handed over the private data of between 18,000 and 19,000 users to law enforcement of all types—including local police and federal agencies, such as the FBI, Federal Marshals and the NSA.[90] One form of wiretapping utilized by the NSA is RADON, a bi-directional host tap that can inject Ethernet packets onto the same target. This allows bi-directional exploitation of Denied networks using standard on-net tools. The one limitation of RADON is that it is a USB device that requires a physical connection to a laptop or PC to work. RADON was created by a Massachusetts firm called Netragard. Their founder, Adriel Desautels, said about RADON, “ it is our ‘safe’ malware. RADON is designed to enable us to infect customer systems in a safe and controllable manner. Safe means that every strand is built with an expiration date that, when reached, results in RADON performing an automatic and clean self-removal.”

Intelligence apparatus to monitor Americans

Since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, a vast domestic intelligence apparatus has been built to collect information using FBI, local police, state homeland security offices and military criminal investigators. The intelligence apparatus collects, analyzes and stores information about millions of (if not all) American citizens, most of whom have not been accused of any wrongdoing. Every state and local law enforcement agency is to feed information to federal authorities to support the work of the FBI.[91]

The PRISM special source operation system was enabled by the Protect America Act of 2007 under President Bush and the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, which legally immunized private companies that cooperated voluntarily with US intelligence collection and was renewed by Congress under President Obama in 2012 for five years until December 2017. According to The Register, the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 "specifically authorizes intelligence agencies to monitor the phone, email, and other communications of U.S. citizens for up to a week without obtaining a warrant" when one of the parties is outside the U.S.

PRISM was first publicly revealed on 6 June 2013, after classified documents about the program were leaked to The Washington Post and The Guardian by Edward Snowden.


In early 2006, USA Today reported that several major telephone companies were cooperating illegally with the National Security Agency to monitor the phone records of U.S. citizens, and storing them in a large database known as the NSA call database. This report came on the heels of allegations that the U.S. government had been conducting electronic surveillance of domestic telephone calls without warrants.[92]

Law enforcement and intelligence services in the United States possess technology to remotely activate the microphones in cell phones in order to listen to conversations that take place nearby the person who holds the phone.[93][94][95]

U.S. federal agents regularly use mobile phones to collect location data. The geographical location of a mobile phone (and thus the person carrying it) can be determined easily (whether it is being used or not), using a technique known multilateration to calculate the differences in time for a signal to travel from the cell phone to each of several cell towers near the owner of the phone.[96][97]

In 2013, the existence of the Hemisphere Project, through which AT&T provides call detail records to government agencies, became publicly known.

Infiltration of smartphones

As worldwide sales of smartphones began exceeding those of feature phones, the NSA decided to take advantage of the smartphone boom. This is particularly advantageous because the smartphone combines a myriad of data that would interest an intelligence agency, such as social contacts, user behavior, interests, location, photos and credit card numbers and passwords.[98]

An internal NSA report from 2010 stated that the spread of the smartphone has been occurring "extremely rapidly"—developments that "certainly complicate traditional target analysis."[98] According to the document, the NSA has set up task forces assigned to several smartphone manufacturers and operating systems, including Apple Inc.'s iPhone and iOS operating system, as well as Google's Android mobile operating system.[98] Similarly, Britain's GCHQ assigned a team to study and crack the BlackBerry.[98]

Under the heading "iPhone capability", the document notes that there are smaller NSA programs, known as "scripts", that can perform surveillance on 38 different features of the iPhone 3 and iPhone 4 operating systems. These include the mapping feature, voicemail and photos, as well as Google Earth, Facebook and Yahoo! Messenger.[98]

In July 2013, Google confirmed that it had inserted NSA's Security Enhancements for Android (containing NSA's Security-Enhanced Linux[99] that is "generally accepted as being [a great addition that makes] a secure operating system even more safe"[100]) source code into its Android 4.2 operating system.[101] Newer devices such as the Sony Xperia Z, HTC One, and Samsung Galaxy S4, all contain it "buried in Google’s latest release".[101]

Data mining of subpoenaed records

The FBI collected nearly all hotel, airline, rental car, gift shop, and casino records in Las Vegas during the last two weeks of 2003. The FBI requested all electronic data of hundreds of thousands of people based on a very general lead for the Las Vegas New Year's celebration. The Senior VP of The Mirage went on record with PBS' Frontline describing the first time they were requested to help in the mass collection of personal information.[102]

Surveillance cameras

Wide Area Persistent Surveillance also (Wide Area Motion Imaging) is a form of airborne surveillance system that collects pattern-of-life data by recording motion images of an area larger than a city - in sub-meter resolution. This video allows for anyone within the field of regard to be tracked - both live and retroactively, for forensic analysis. The use of sophisticated tracking algorithms applied to the WAMI dataset also enables mass automated geo-location tracking of every vehicle and pedestrian.[103] WAMI sensors are typically mounted on manned airplanes, drones, blimps and aerostats. WAMI is currently in use on the souther border of the USA and has been deployed in Baltimore,[104] Dayton Ohio as well as in Los Angeles, specifically targeting Compton. Wide Area Persistent Surveillance systems such as ARGUS

  • "CriMNet Evaluation Report" by the Office of the Legislative Auditor of a Minnesota program to improve sharing of criminal justice information, March 2004.

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See also

According to NSA Chief Compliance Officer John DeLong, most violations of the NSA's rules were self-reported, and most often involved spying on personal love interests using surveillance technology of the agency.[151]

According to documents seen by the news agency Reuters, information obtained in this way is subsequently funnelled to authorities across the nation to help them launch criminal investigations of Americans.[150] Federal agents are then instructed to "recreate" the investigative trail in order to "cover up" where the information originated,[150] known as parallel construction. (Were the true origins known, the evidence and resulting case might be invalidated as "fruit of the poisonous tree", a legal doctrine designed to deter abuse of power that prevents evidence or subsequent events being used in a case if they resulted from a search or other process that does not conform to legal requirements.)

In an interview with Der Spiegel published on 12 August 2013, former NSA Director Michael Hayden admitted that "We [the NSA] steal secrets. We're number one in it". Hayden also added that "We steal stuff to make you safe, not to make you rich".[145]

According to reports by Brazil's O Globo newspaper, the collected data was also used to target "commercial secrets".[146] In a statement addressed to the National Congress of Brazil, journalist Glenn Greenwald testified that the U.S. government uses counter-terrorism as a "pretext" for clandestine surveillance in order to compete with other countries in the "business, industrial and economic fields".[147][148][149]

Other than to combat terrorism, these surveillance programs have been employed to assess the foreign policy and economic stability of other countries.[145]

Most of the NSA's collected data which was seen by human eyes (i.e., used by NSA operatives) was used in accordance with the stated objective of combating terrorism.[142][143][144]

Uses of intercepted data

Examples of members of the "Five Eyes" spying for each other:

Aside from the "Five Eyes", most other Western countries are also participating in the NSA surveillance system and sharing information with each other.[138] However, being a partner of the NSA does not automatically exempt a country from being targeted by the NSA. According to an internal NSA document leaked by Snowden, "We (the NSA) can, and often do, target the signals of most 3rd party foreign partners."[139]

Top secret documents leaked by Edward Snowden revealed that the "Five Eyes" have gained access to the majority of internet and telephone communications flowing throughout Europe, the United States, and other parts of the world.
Left: SEA-ME-WE 3, which runs across the Afro-Eurasian supercontinent from Japan to Northern Germany, is one of the most important submarine cables accessed by the "Five Eyes". Singapore, a former British colony in the Asia-Pacific region (blue dot), plays a vital role in intercepting internet and telecommunications traffic heading from Australia/Japan to Europe, and vice versa. An intelligence sharing agreement between Singapore and Australia allows the rest of the "Five Eyes" to gain access to SEA-ME-WE 3.[134]
Right:TAT-14, a telecommunications cable linking Europe with the United States, was identified as one of few assets of "Critical Infrastructure and Key Resources" of the USA on foreign territory. In 2013, it was revealed that British officials "pressured a handful of telecommunications and internet companies" to allow the British government to gain access to TAT-14.[137]

In 2013, media disclosures revealed how other government agencies have cooperated extensively with the "Five Eyes":

Although the treaty was later revised to include other countries such as Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Norway, Turkey, and the Philippines,[125] most of the information sharing is performed by the so-called "Five Eyes",[126] a term referring to the following English-speaking western democracies and their respective intelligence agencies:

During World War II, the BRUSA Agreement was signed by the governments of the United States and the United Kingdom for the purpose of intelligence sharing. This was later formalized in the UKUSA Agreement of 1946 as a secret treaty. The full text of the agreement was released to the public on 25 June 2010.[125]

The "five eyes" of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States

International cooperation

In 2013, a Washington, D.C. undercover cop infiltrated peace groups.[124]

In 2008, Maryland State Police infiltrated local peace groups.[123]

The New York City Police Department infiltrated and compiled dossiers on protest groups before the 2004 Republican National Convention, leading to over 1,800 arrests and subsequent fingerprinting.[122]

In 2003, consent decrees against surveillance around the country were lifted, with the assistance of the Justice Department.[121]

Infiltration of activist groups

By 2020, about 30,000 unmanned drones are expected to be deployed in the United States for the purpose of surveillance and law enforcement.[120]

In February 2013, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Police Department explained that these drones would initially be deployed in large public gatherings, including major protests. Over time, tiny drones would be used to fly inside buildings to track down suspects and assist in investigations.[119] According to The Los Angeles Times, the main advantage of using drones is that they offer "unblinking eye-in-the-sky coverage". They can be modified to carry high-resolution video cameras, infrared sensors, license plate readers, listening devices, and be disguised as sea gulls or other birds to mask themselves.[119]

Earlier in 2012, Congress passed a US$63 billion bill that will grant four years of additional funding to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Under the bill, the FAA is required to provide military and commercial drones with expanded access to U.S. airspace by October 2015.[118]

On 19 June 2013, FBI Director Robert Mueller told the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary that the federal government had been employing surveillance drones on U.S. soil in "particular incidents".[117] According to Mueller, the FBI is currently in the initial stage of developing drone policies.[117]

Surveillance drones

The Department of Homeland Security is funding networks of surveillance cameras in cities and towns as part of its efforts to combat terrorism.[115] In February 2009, Cambridge, MA rejected the cameras due to privacy concerns.[116]

Traffic cameras, which were meant to help enforce traffic laws at intersections, have also sparked some controversy, due to their use by law enforcement agencies for purposes unrelated to traffic violations.[113] These cameras also work as transit choke-points that allow individuals inside the vehicle to be positively identified and license plate data to be collected and time stamped for cross reference with airborne WAMI such as ARGUS and HAWKEYE used by police and Law Enforcement.[114]

PeSEAS[109] and PerMIATE[110] software automate and record the movement observed in the WAMI video.[111] This technology uses software to track and record the movements of pedestrians and vehicles using automatic object recognition software across the entire frame, generating "tracklets" or chronographs of every car and pedestrian movements. 24/7 deployment of this technology has been suggested by the DHS on spy blimps such as the recently killed Blue Devil Airship.[112]

While a resistance to the domestic deployment of WAMI has emerged in areas where the public has learned of the technologies use, the deployments have been intentionally hidden from the public, as in Compton California, where the mayor learned about the surveillance[107] from groups like the American Civil Liberties Union,[108] Teame Zazzu[103] and the Center for Investigative Reporting.

create airborne video so detailed that pedestrians can be followed across the city through forensic analysis. This allows investigators to rewind and playback the movements of anyone within this 68 square mile area for hours, days or even months at a time depending on the airframe the WAMI sensors are mounted on. JLENS, a surveillance aerostat scheduled for deployment over the east coast of the USA, is a form of WAMI that uses sophisticated radar imaging along with electro-optical WAMI sensors to enable mass geo-location tracking of ground vehicles. [106]

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