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July 10, 2014
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editorial

Dragnet: spying in the digital age


Beyond the agency’s telephone surveillance activities—some cases blessed by orders from the top-secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court, others not—still more revelations have come to light, including that the NSA routinely processed hundreds of millions of Google and Yahoo records of emails and Internet searches. When particularly difficult challenges have arisen, NSA’s hackers’ unit was brought in to do its work. (www.spiegel.de/international/world/the-nsa-uses-powerful-toolbox-in-effo...)

Last week the debate continued unabated following a decision by another federal judge in New York, William H. Pauley III, whose ruling stands in direct opposition to Judge Leon’s. Even though he finds that the program “vacuums up information about virtually every telephone call to, from or within the United States,” Pauley ruled the bulk collection of telephone metadata—records of everyone’s phone calls including telephone numbers, both called and received; call duration; unique identifiers and the time of the call—is perfectly legal.

This is not a debate that Americans should sit out and watch from the sidelines. At the heart of the matter is privacy and whether “hundreds of millions of innocent people can be put under permanent surveillance because of the possibility that information about some tiny subset of them will become useful to an investigation in the future,” as the ACLU’s deputy legal director Jameel Jaffer argued.“This kind of dragnet surveillance is precisely what the Fourth Amendment was meant to prohibit.”

If you remember your history, the Fourth Amendment came to be in the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution because, as colonists, the Founding Fathers had suffered under the British authorities’ almost unlimited power to search for anything at any time, a practice deemed to have been a catalyst for fueling Americans’ revolutionary sentiments.