You, like many Americans / members of Congress may not be exactly clear on what the NSA collects in its surveillance systems and how those systems are legal. This is because you do not have the most recent, up-to-date entries in your government dictionary. In light of that, please print the following article and use it for any future news articles or Congressional resolutions of support. Thank you.
Updates to the U.S. Foreign Surveillance Dictionary™
collection (kəˈlekʃn): As you may have read in Thursday's New York Times, "collection" does not mean storing information for short periods of time. Yes, the NSA does duplicate enormous amounts of data into a database and search it for certain keywords. But, as an NSA official explains that because the data is then deleted:
… it would be inaccurate to portray the N.S.A. as engaging in “bulk collection” of the contents of communications. “ ‘Bulk collection’ is when we collect and retain for some period of time that lets us do retrospective analysis,” the official said. “In this case, we do not do that, so we do not consider this ‘bulk collection.’ ”
The Electronic Frontier Foundation also points out that under Department of Defense rules:
Data acquired by electronic means is "collected" only when it has been processed into intelligible form.
So if the military can't quickly search the scads of data it has collected, it hasn't been collected.
content (ˈkɑːntent): See "data."
data (ˈdeɪtə): A lot of people unfamiliar with secrecy semantics use the term "data" to refer to a group of points of information. That is wrong.
Data is content. It is what is said in a communication. It is not information about the communication. That is metadata. Got it?
If not, please refer to the congressional testimony of Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. Asked by Senator Ron Wyden if the NSA "collect[s] any type of data at all" on Americans, Clapper responded no. Because, he said, he was thinking about the question only in terms of Wyden's previous question, which dealt with how the NSA gathers emails and internet content on non-Americans. He wasn't thinking about the metadata that the NSA collects on every phone call that takes place through every American phone provider — metadata which includes the phone numbers and length of the call. That isn't data, it is metadata.
And therefore, by this definition, Clapper was hardly wrong at all.
metadata (ˈmetədeɪtə): See "data."
relevant (ˈreləvənt): The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has decided that the word "relevant" means "could be relevant." The Wall Street Journal reported on this last month.
Under the Patriot Act, the Federal Bureau of Investigation can require businesses to hand over "tangible things," including "records," as long as the FBI shows it is reasonable to believe the things are "relevant to an authorized investigation" into international terrorism or foreign intelligence activities. …
The use of computers to look for links in massive data sets also means information previously not considered relevant could today, in fact, be important in some broad investigations, says Paul Rosenzweig, a former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy in the Department of Homeland Security in the administration of President George W. Bush.
In other words, the fact that information is demonstrably interconnected means that the network of information itself is now a relevant component of an evidence chain.
target (ˈtɑːrɡɪt): As part of The Times report on Thursday, it's important to understand the definition of "target." The target of an investigation is the person who the NSA is investigating — which by law must be a person who is not an American. As the deputy director of the NSA told Congress: "We do not target the content of U.S. person communications without a specific warrant anywhere on the earth."
Because the people whose email communications are scanned (not collected!) by the NSA are not targets, according to the NSA's definition. They are merely people who might be communicating about the target.
“There is an ambiguity in the law about what it means to ‘target’ someone,” [former Bush intelligence official Timothy] Edgar, now a visiting professor at Brown, said. “You can never intentionally target someone inside the United States. Those are the words we were looking at. We were most concerned about making sure the procedures only target communications that have one party outside the United States.”
Based on these definitions, the following sentence is true:
The NSA does not target American citizens for surveillance or collect data on American citizens, because doing so is wrong.
We hope these updates have been helpful.
Please note: The definitions of any and all of these and any other words may change as needed without notice.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.