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Obama Admin Unveils Spying Justification

“The way the government is interpreting relevance, anything and everything they say is relevant becomes relevant.”

- Andrea Germanos, staff writer

Sign seen at a Restore the Fourth protest. (Photo: Steve Rhodes/cc/flickr)The Obama administration on Friday released white papers in an apparent attempt to justify the National Security Agency's dragnet surveillance of Americans.

The release came the same day Obama admitted at a press conference that NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden "triggered a much more rapid" dialogue on the agency's spying programs.

One section explains that the agency "touches" 1.6% of Internet traffic per day:

Also outlined is the agency's justification of its bulk collection of Americans' "telephony metadata" as the Associational Tracking Program under section 215 of the Patriot Act.

However, as Cindy Cohen of the Electronic Frontier Foundation points out,

There is no direct authorization for the Associational Tracking Program in section Patriot Act section 215.

Nowhere does the statute say that the NSA may conduct bulk collection and analysis of the phone records of nonsuspect, nontargeted Americans on an ongoing basis, including requiring the production of records that haven’t even been produced yet.

The Guardian's Spencer Ackerman explained further on the Associational Tracking Program, which "authorizes the government to acquire 'tangible things' that are 'relevant' to an investigation":

Since the Guardian disclosed the existence of the bulk phone records program, thanks to the ex-NSA contractor Edward Snowden, legal scholars have puzzled over how the phone numbers dialed, lengths of calls and times of calls of millions of Americans unsuspected of terrorism or espionage meet that standard.

Cohen adds that

any analysis of the government’s legalistic parsing of the legislative language has to start with the fact that, to believe the government, you have to believe that Congress intended to allow NSA to collect of all of the phone records of all Americans by hiding it in, at best, extremely strained interpretations of the statute that otherwise simply does not authorize bulk collection.

Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said, “The way the government is interpreting relevance, anything and everything they say is relevant becomes relevant.”

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