Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

So long as major news outlets are telling Americans that NSA data collection has "ended," that falsehood is likely to ensure that mass surveillance, in fact, will continue. (Image: Screenshot with overlay)

The Mass Surveillance of US Public Continues as USA Today Declares It Ended

USA Today (6/3/15) had a five-column headline across the top of its front page:

NSA Data Collection Ended

That would be odd, since the National Security Agency exists to collect data; it’s unlikely that a $10 billion agency would simply stop everything it was doing.

What the headline means to say is that the NSA has ended what the story calls its “controversial bulk collection of the phone data of millions of Americans who have no ties to terrorism.” But that’s not really true either. For one thing, while the headline says that the phone data collection program has ended, the vote the headline is reporting actually restarted it. While the NSA says it ended the collection of bulk metadata at the end of May in accordance with a sunset provision in the original Patriot Act, the USA Freedom Act authorizes the the agency to begin collecting it again over what USA Today calls a six-month “wind down” period “to give the NSA and phone companies…time to switch over the data collection to the phone companies.”

And that points to a bigger problem with declaring that the NSA’s data collection has “ended”: The same data will still be collected, only it will be held in phone company computers rather than the NSA’s computers. The NSA will still have access to the data, only having to get an OK from the FISA court–a notorious rubberstamp that operates in secret. As NSA whistleblower J. Kirk Wiebe told FAIR, “It’s more of a psychological maneuver to make us all feel good than a true constraint.”


We Interrupt This Article with an Urgent Message!

Common Dreams is a not-for-profit organization. We fund our news team by pooling together many small contributions from our readers. No advertising. No selling our readers’ information. No reliance on big donations from the 1%. This allows us to maintain the editorial independence that our readers rely on. But this media model only works if enough readers pitch in.
We urgently need your help today.
If you support Common Dreams and you want us to survive, your gift today is critical.
Please give now to our Mid-Year Fundraiser!

Wiebe notes that the phone metadata collection program addressed by the USA Freedom Act is the tip of the iceberg as far as NSA data collection is concerned–pointing, for example, to Executive Order 12333, “collect, retain, or disseminate information concerning United States persons” when it is “obtained in the course of a lawful foreign intelligence, counterintelligence, international narcotics or international terrorism investigation” (Ars Technica, 8/27/14). This is used to capture vast amounts of US communication–not metadata, but the actual content of phone calls and emails–under the pretense that this surveillance of US citizens is “incidental” to the NSA’s legal mission of foreign surveillance. As Glenn Greenwald documents in his book Nowhere to Hide, the NSA is not kidding with its unofficial motto “Collect It All.”

While some civil liberties groups supported the USA Freedom Act as a modest step in the right direction, others were less sanguine. “The Senate just voted to reinstitute certain lapsed surveillance authorities — and that means that USA Freedom actually made Americans less free,” declared Demand Progress executive director David Segal, saying that the bill “does not end mass surveillance and could be interpreted by the Executive branch as authorizing activities the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has found to be unlawful.” He called on Congress “to achieve far-reaching, meaningful changes to surveillance programs, and…assert America’s strong commitment to constitutional rights.”

That’s not likely to happen, of course, so long as major news outlets are telling Americans that NSA data collection has “ended.”

© 2021 Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR)
Jim Naureckas

Jim Naureckas

Jim Naureckas is editor of EXTRA! Magazine at FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting). He is the co-author of  "Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error," and co-editor of The FAIR Reader. He is also the co-manager of FAIR's website.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

#UprootTheSystem: Climate Movement Readies Another Global Strike

Youth activists are demanding not only climate action but also equitable Covid-19 vaccine distribution.

Andrea Germanos ·

Big Pharma Greed 'Literally Killing Americans,' Sanders Says Outside Drug Lobby HQ

"How many people need to die, how many people need to get unnecessarily sicker, before Congress is prepared to take on the greed of the prescription drug industry?" asked Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Jake Johnson ·

Vaccine Equity Coalition Warns 'Pathetic Trickles of Charity' Won't End Pandemic

"Rich countries are selfishly looking out for themselves but short-changing all of us. We need bold solutions now, not more empty gestures."

Jake Johnson ·

'Do Better,' Say Advocates as Biden Seeks to Double Refugee Admissions

"When thousands of Afghans have been forced to flee their home to find safety, and Haitians are seeking safety on the southern border, the very least the United States can do is set a resettlement goal that meets the moment."

Brett Wilkins ·

Border Patrol Accused of 'Unfathomable Cruelty' for Cracking Whips on Haitians

"It doesn't matter if a Democrat or Republican is president, our immigration system is designed for cruelty towards and dehumanization of immigrants," said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Brett Wilkins ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.

Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo