Let’s say that the government accidentally and mistakenly mined data on millions of Americans. Let’s say they meant to focus on some suspects in foreign intelligence cases but wound up targeting innocent citizens suspected of nothing and accessing their telephone and email communications. That’s exactly what officials are claiming transpired when NSA “mistakenly” intercepted communications of innocent Americans.
Ret. Adm. Dennis Blair, who served as President Obama’s DNI in 2009 and 2010, told NBC News that, in one instance in 2009, analysts entered a phone number into agency computers and “put one digit wrong,” and mined a large volume of information about Americans with no connection to terror. The matter was reported to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, whose judges required that all the data be destroyed, he said.
Another former senior official, who asked not to be identified, confirmed Blair’s recollection and said the incident created serious problems for the Justice Department, which represents the NSA before the federal judges on the secret court.
This is one of the problems of allowing the government to snoop as they do.
Let’s assume that this time it was a mistake. Thousands of people have had their privacy compromised, and we knew nothing about it until this fiasco was made public by the Guardian a few days ago.
Let’s assume the government’s intentions were nothing but pure – to protect this nation from another devastating terrorist attack by using the best tools at its disposal.
The problem is it happened, and it can happen again.
It can happen by mistake – through a mistyped digit – allowing government to snoop on innocent people.
It can happen intentionally – through one bureaucrat’s desire to snoop on a paramour who hasn’t paid enough attention to him – allowing government to snoop on an innocent person and find out with whom he or she may be involved, in order to allow one bureaucrat access to the object of his or her “affection.”
It can happen intentionally – through a directive from Washington, as a way to target political opponents or groups – allowing government to snoop on an innocent person or group, allowing politicians to gather data on adversaries and shut them up.
Do you see the common thread here?
Allowing the government such power endangers all of our rights – whether through an inadvertent mistake or intentional abuse – allows the potential for serious compromises and violations of our rights and freedoms as Americans.
And that is distinctly UNAmerican.