Electronic Surveillance 101: How Big Brother Gets Away With Domestic Spying.
Amidst the flurry of the lame-stream media storm, and the constant blame game in social venues, there is still a question not answered. How are we as individual citizens being affected? Stop for a moment and think. How dose a particular executive order directly affect you, how about a change in health care, or changes in immigration laws? Some of these issues may not target us directly, but only assail our feelings or beliefs. In the greater scheme of things most of these changes will slip from our minds soon after the media scrapes up the next breaking story. For almost 40 years one of these changes has slipped our minds, only to come to light in the current unrest. The current administration is voicing it as a weapon used against them, but has failed to bring to light the true nature of this beast.
As House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, finished her rant Friday, that President Trump should apologize to former President Obama, and the American people, for his unsubstantiated wiretapping charge. The White House continued to hold his ground that Mr. Obama had Trump Tower wiretapped during the 2016 campaign. The FBI did name Trump in a June 2016 application for a surveillance warrant, but was turned down by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Yet a “more narrowly drawn” application was approved in October 2016. FBI Director James B. Comey confirmed in congressional testimony Monday that the FBI was investigating Trump associates, and reports have stated that the Obama administration had eavesdropped on the Trump campaign, then relaxed National Security Agency rules “to allow evidence to be shared widely within the government.” No evidence of surveillance was found because none was created or necessary in order to execute a “wire tap”.
The President may authorize, through the Attorney General, electronic surveillance without a court order.
Lets start with the FISA court. The FISA court secretly reviews applications for warrants related to national security investigations. “But that only applies to the president, or terrorists and gangsters”. “It doesn’t apply to me, right”? guess again. Several groups expressed concern regarding the implementation, usage, and possible abuses of Carnivore or other data collection systems, and several statements have been submitted to the United States House of Representatives detailing the dangers of such systems. All of this stayed under wraps until 2013, when a top-secret order issued by the court, required a subsidiary of Verizon to provide a daily, on-going feed of all call detail records – including those for domestic calls – to the NSA. This came to light and was later leaked to the media from documents culled by Edward Snowden.
The United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court or FISA Court is a U.S. federal court established and authorized under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978. It oversees requests for surveillance warrants against foreign spies inside the United States by federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies. Such requests are made most often by the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Congress created FISA and its court as a result of the recommendations by the U.S. Senate’s Church Committee. Its powers have evolved to the point that it has been called “a parallel Supreme Court”. Each application for one of these surveillance warrants is made before an individual judge of the court, but when the U.S. Attorney General determines that an emergency exists, the Attorney General may authorize the emergency employment of electronic surveillance before obtaining the necessary authorization from the FISC. This type of approval can lead to rationalization of information by the government on targeted individuals, for example, certain characteristics like ethnicity and religion combined with probable cause gives the FBI power to dig into the background of an individual until anything remotely suspicious comes up, even if there’s clear-cut evidence that the person is innocent.
No evidence of surveillance was found because none was created or necessary in order to execute a “wire tap”.
With all this said, again where dose that leave you and I? “It’s laid out pretty black and white”, and “I’m not a foreign spy”. Well here is where it gets pretty grey. The President may authorize, through the Attorney General, electronic surveillance without a court order for the period of one year, provided that it is only to acquire foreign intelligence information, that it is solely directed at communications or property controlled exclusively by foreign powers, that there is no substantial likelihood that it will acquire the contents of any communication to which a United States person is a party, and that it be conducted only in accordance with defined minimization procedures. A “U.S. person” includes citizens, lawfully admitted permanent resident aliens, and corporations incorporated in the United States. The code defines “foreign intelligence information” to mean information necessary to protect the United States against actual or potential grave attack, sabotage or international terrorism.
“Foreign powers” means a foreign government, any faction of a foreign nation not substantially composed of U.S. persons, and any entity directed or controlled by a foreign government. The definition also includes groups engaged in international terrorism and foreign political organizations. The sections of FISA authorizing electronic surveillance and physical searches without a court order specifically exclude their application to groups engaged in international terrorism. Approval of a FISA application requires the court find probable cause that the target of the surveillance be a “foreign power” or an “agent of a foreign power”, and that the places at which surveillance is requested is used or will be used by that foreign power or its agent. In 2004, FISA was amended to include a “lone wolf” provision. The provision amended the definition of “foreign power” to permit the FISA courts to issue surveillance and physical search orders without having to find a connection between the “lone wolf” and a foreign government or terrorist group. At which time the President would be given certain additional limited statutory authority to conduct electronic surveillance of suspected terrorists in the United States subject to enhanced Congressional oversight.
“It doesn’t apply to me, right”? guess again.
“I’m still safe” you think? In comes the Protect America act of 2007. On July 28, 2007, President Bush called on Congress to pass legislation to reform the FISA. This eased restrictions on communication surveillance of “terrorist” suspects, where one, or both parties are located overseas. By the legislation “communication/s” are defined as: phone conversations, email correspondence, websites visited, and social media connections. Under the Protect America Act of 2007, communications that begin or end in a foreign country may be wiretapped by the U.S. government without supervision by the FISA Court. The Act removes from the definition of “electronic surveillance” in FISA from any surveillance directed at a person reasonably believed to be located outside the United States. As such, surveillance of these communications no longer requires a government application to, and an order issuing from, the FISA Court. The Act provides procedures for the government to “certify” the legality of an acquisition program. It lays out guidelines for the government to issue directives to service providers to provide data or assistance under a particular program. The government agency that receives a directive to is able to seek from the FISA Court, an order to compel a service providers compliance or relief from an unlawful directive. Providers receive costs and full immunity from civil suits for compliance with any directives issued pursuant to the Act.
I can understand this is fairly convoluted and has lots of twists and turns but it’s been designed that way. It gives us the illusion that were being protected from the government eye, or this gives our nation an edge against a foreign threat, but au contraire mon frère. So think about who’s in your friends list next time you get on your soap box across social media, send an email to a foreign company, or visit a website that is hosted in a foreign country, Hell, before call your grandma in Canada for that matter. Anyone of these avenues could put on the radar. Big brother has been watching and gathering your communications and activity for almost 40 years, and now has the power to use it against you how ever they see fit.