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Chief NSA Lawyer Hints That NSA May Be Tracking US Citizens 213

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the this-story-may-exist dept.
itwbennett writes "Responding to questions from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence yesterday, Matthew Olsen, the NSA's general counsel, said that the NSA 'may', under 'certain circumstances' have the authority to track U.S. citizens by intercepting location data from cell phones, but it's 'very complicated.' 'There's no need to panic, or start shopping for aluminum-foil headwear,' says blogger Kevin Fogarty, but clearly the NSA has been thinking about it enough 'that the agency's chief lawyer was able to speak intelligently about it off the cuff while interviewing for a different job.'"
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Chief NSA Lawyer Hints That NSA May Be Tracking US Citizens

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  • the NSA 'may', under 'certain circumstances' have the authority to track U.S. citizens by intercepting location data from cell phones, but it's 'very complicated.'

    "Very complicated", referring of course to the process of determining whether your political leanings are threatening or not to the government in power.

    • by ColdWetDog (752185) on Tuesday July 26, 2011 @04:46PM (#36888160) Homepage

      "Very complicated", referring of course to the process of determining whether your political leanings are threatening or not to the government in power.

      No, remember this is a Senate committee. "Very complicated" is anything more advanced than a fork.

      • "Very complicated", referring of course to the process of determining whether your political leanings are threatening or not to the government in power.

        No, remember this is a Senate committee. "Very complicated" is anything more advanced than a fork.

        Actually, that is pretty good, considering most House committees haven't gotten past spoons.

        • by Applekid (993327)

          "Very complicated", referring of course to the process of determining whether your political leanings are threatening or not to the government in power.

          No, remember this is a Senate committee. "Very complicated" is anything more advanced than a fork.

          Actually, that is pretty good, considering most House committees haven't gotten past spoons.

          Ah, that's what all that talk about "silver spoons" is all about.

        • Actually, that is pretty good, considering most House committees haven't gotten past spoons.

          Sure they have. Can't handle pork with a spoon.

      • Imagine the chaos with a spork.

    • Re:Very complicated (Score:5, Interesting)

      by dkleinsc (563838) on Tuesday July 26, 2011 @05:00PM (#36888270) Homepage

      "Very complicated", referring of course to the process of determining whether your political leanings are threatening or not to the government in power.

      Possibly, but you have to understand that "the government in power" in this case isn't Obama, or Bush, or Congress, but instead the TLAs and their massive and growing secret activities. It doesn't matter, for instance, that they've knowingly and repeatedly violated the law - both the Attorney General and the federal courts have said, in short, "Regardless of whether the agency broke the law, you can't talk about it in an open courtroom. Case dismissed."

      I'm going to also assume they've acquired dirt on most of Congress as well as the President and most presidential candidates, as a way to prevent their funding from being taken.

      • by steelfood (895457) on Tuesday July 26, 2011 @06:19PM (#36888962)

        Sounds like Hoover and the FBI. Everything is cylical in nature indeed.

      • Re:Very complicated (Score:4, Informative)

        by techoi (1435019) on Tuesday July 26, 2011 @07:42PM (#36889620)

        The problem at this point isn't the Republicans or the Democrats. The problem is the Republicans AND the Democrats. Don't matter who is in charge.

        • That's why I prefer the term Republicrats. We stopped having a two party system a long time ago. Instead now we have a shell game and most of the sheeple eat it up.

          • When you use the word sheeple you start the us/them falacy which made wolves out of the previous users of the word.

            • by tehcyder (746570)

              When you use the word sheeple you start the us/them falacy which made wolves out of the previous users of the word.

              When you use the word sheeple you reveal to the world that you are a twat.

      • by dbIII (701233)
        There's also a lot of ideological lag. Remember Chaplin was harrassed and even framed at great expense to the taxpayer in the 1950s because he was an outspoken anti-fascist. There's something truly comical about security agencies pretending that a millionaire hollywood studio owner was a communist and then having to change tack before everyone laughed them out of a job.
      • by RockDoctor (15477)

        I'm going to also assume they've acquired dirt on most of Congress as well as the President and most presidential candidates, as a way to prevent their funding from being taken.

        When did the conversation about Murdoch and his tactics move west of the Atlantic?

    • by Roachie (2180772)

      What going to be 'very complicated' is reinventing the guillotine.

      It would appear that we will have a lot of practice.

    • the NSA 'may', under 'certain circumstances' have the authority to track U.S. citizens by intercepting location data from cell phones, but it's 'very complicated.'

      "When we REALLY REALLY want to."

  • by StefanJ (88986) on Tuesday July 26, 2011 @04:37PM (#36888072) Homepage Journal

    . . . Fox News correspondents were seen sweating, nervously adjusting their collars, and making "SHHHH!" gestures to Mr. Olsen.

  • May be? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 26, 2011 @04:37PM (#36888074)

    What about the secret rooms of ATT, where domestic US traffic was routed to the NSA?

    NSA is, not "may be".

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The chief NSA lawyer is surely a credible source.

      The NSA tracks EVERYONE [slashdot.org].

    Yours In Miami,
    Anonymous

  • 'Very complicated' = "Now, don't you go worrying your pretty little heads about that."
    • Re:Translation: (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Col. Klink (retired) (11632) on Tuesday July 26, 2011 @04:58PM (#36888242)

      "Very complicated" = "not ever actually constitutional, but the courts would never be allowed to challenge it so we could do it if we wanted"

      • by slick7 (1703596)
        There's no need to panic: First lie.
        that the agency's chief lawyer was able to speak intelligently about it...: Second lie.
        Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Biggest lie of all, intelligence in the Senate, individually, committee-wise or otherwise.
  • by YrWrstNtmr (564987) on Tuesday July 26, 2011 @04:40PM (#36888106)
    On days that end in "Y", in months that have more than 27 days
  • by Nimey (114278) on Tuesday July 26, 2011 @04:40PM (#36888108) Homepage Journal

    So much for Imperial America going away with Bush the Lesser.

  • by elrous0 (869638) * on Tuesday July 26, 2011 @04:41PM (#36888124)

    Those being "Whenever the hell we feel like it."

    • by Tasha26 (1613349)
      People should get a vote on where their tax dollars go. [usual rant].... This is becoming ridiculous!
  • by GodfatherofSoul (174979) on Tuesday July 26, 2011 @04:44PM (#36888142)

    I am shocked! SHOCKED!

  • by Anonymous Coward
    It is definitely unthinkable that the "certain circumstances" could be when the FISA court has issued a warrant. Right?
    • Hey, which side are you on here? Are you a fearless defender of liberty or a loathsome Communist oppressor? You're really starting to worry me...
  • Tracking via cellular phones has been doable with a decent degree
    As long as the circumstances are "when we have a warrant", then I don't see an issue.

    • by Beelzebud (1361137) on Tuesday July 26, 2011 @04:56PM (#36888224)
      Because the mission of the NSA isn't law enforcement, and it's a bit chilling to know that the spy agency that is more secretive than the CIA is actually pointing their sights at American citizens, which is NOT what they're supposed to be doing.
      • by ScentCone (795499) on Tuesday July 26, 2011 @05:03PM (#36888286)

        which is NOT what they're supposed to be doing

        Unless those people are in communication with people outside the country, in which case they (the domestic phone users) are one half of the call and tracking that is precisely what they're supposed to be doing.

      • by tehcyder (746570)

        Because the mission of the NSA isn't law enforcement, and it's a bit chilling to know that the spy agency that is more secretive than the CIA is actually pointing their sights at American citizens, which is NOT what they're supposed to be doing.

        Why, because no American citizen could possibly prove a threat to national security? And no one in the US could be communicating with foreign spies? You seem to have a very naive view of the world.

    • by element-o.p. (939033) on Tuesday July 26, 2011 @05:37PM (#36888564) Homepage

      As long as the circumstances are "when we have a warrant", then I don't see an issue.

      I do. NSA was chartered for the purpose of gathering electronic intelligence of our enemies abroad (at the time of its inception, the Soviet Union). I worked at NSA in the late '80s, and at the time, there were signs posted all over warning that NSA was specifically prohibited by executive order from conducting surveillance on U.S. citizens within the United States. The FBI is tasked with domestic law enforcement, not NSA; NSA has no business whatsoever conducting surveillance on American citizens within the U.S.

      • if only more insiders were willing to speak out...

      • by russotto (537200)

        I do. NSA was chartered for the purpose of gathering electronic intelligence of our enemies abroad (at the time of its inception, the Soviet Union). I worked at NSA in the late '80s, and at the time, there were signs posted all over warning that NSA was specifically prohibited by executive order from conducting surveillance on U.S. citizens within the United States. The FBI is tasked with domestic law enforcement, not NSA; NSA has no business whatsoever conducting surveillance on American citizens within th

      • by tehcyder (746570)
        So if a terrorist had phoned Mr A in New York on the day of September 11 saying "congratulations on the bomb thing, now on to phase two" you don't think that any subsequent calls to/from Mr A should have been monitored?
        And whether it's by the FBI or the NSA is just nit-picking.
        • So if a terrorist had phoned Mr A in New York on the day of September 11 saying "congratulations on the bomb thing, now on to phase two" you don't think that any subsequent calls to/from Mr A should have been monitored?

          In the general case, I don't think NSA should have had any clue that your hypothetical terrorist had called Mr. A. However, if they intercepted the call while the hypothetical terrorist was already being surveilled for another reason, then the proper response would have been to disclose to the FBI that Mr. A might possibly be connected with a terrorist organization so that the FBI could get a warrant to conduct an investigation legally and properly.

          And whether it's by the FBI or the NSA is just nit-picking.

          No, not by a long shot. That kind of thinking is dangerou

    • by mcgrew (92797) * on Tuesday July 26, 2011 @05:53PM (#36888678) Homepage Journal

      If the "certain circumstances" were "when we have a warrant" he wouldn't have had to beat around the bush, he'd simply have said "when we have a warrant".

    • by number11 (129686)

      As long as the circumstances are "when we have a warrant", then I don't see an issue.

      So long as there is personal recourse against the judge that issued the warrant, if it turns out to be unwarranted.

  • Always assume they have the code.

  • Always use a pay phone.
    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      A pay phone? How quaint! I haven't seen one that actually worked in years.

      • by w_dragon (1802458)
        Go anywhere where travel happens. Bus stations, train stations, and airports all generally have a good supply of payphones.
    • by mgiuca (1040724)

      It's like in the final season of 24, when Jack Bauer was on the run from the government, he bought about a dozen cell phones. Every time he made a phone call he would immediately throw the phone in a bin.

  • I'm sure the equipment to do this is.

  • Well yeah (Score:4, Insightful)

    by oGMo (379) on Tuesday July 26, 2011 @05:14PM (#36888382)

    I'm hardly going to debate the ethics or constitutionality or whatever of this, because to the following, it's irrelevant:

    If you care about your privacy that much, why are you willingly carrying around a device that's transmitting your position with little or no encryption to everyone who wants to see it? If you want to secure your network, do you leave an open WAP transmitting its SSID as widely as possible? This isn't someone planting a tracking device. This is you shouting loudly to everyone that you're here, and then complaining when someone takes note.

    • By extension, I shouldn't use a phone ever, because the person on the other end will almost certainly be vulnerable to tracking and eavesdropping.

      We shouldn't have to spend our days attempting to cloak ourselves from our own government agencies. The ability of certain agencies to use GPS tracking has saved plenty of lives through helping to locate victims during rescue efforts, and that's just one worthwhile use. We shouldn't have to sacrifice that just to keep gratuitous government eavesdropping at bay. Th

    • by Syberz (1170343)

      When you're walking around the street talking to your significant other, although in public, you don't necessarily want someone to follow you around, take notes of what you're saying and keep track of where you've been.

      Cellphone or not, just because someone can track you and listen in to your conversations easily, it doesn't mean that you've given them permission to or that they should do it on a whim.

    • by Nyder (754090)

      I'm hardly going to debate the ethics or constitutionality or whatever of this, because to the following, it's irrelevant:

      If you care about your privacy that much, why are you willingly carrying around a device that's transmitting your position with little or no encryption to everyone who wants to see it? If you want to secure your network, do you leave an open WAP transmitting its SSID as widely as possible? This isn't someone planting a tracking device. This is you shouting loudly to everyone that you're here, and then complaining when someone takes note.

      um, ya, don't you see all the peeps bitching about the wifi info google gathered? bunch of stupid ass consumers out there.

  • Ever since ECHELON chatter started 10-12 years ago, does anyone really think that the UK–USA Security Agreement nations hasn't been doing this?

    The problem is that it'd be hard to track everyone at once, even with super computers and satellites like LACROSSE there are just too many people to track, so they can probably actively track a few thousand to a million people.

    If they want to look up where anyone else is, they can hit phone location, email IP, social media logs, international and domestic flig

  • This is old news.
  • This shit never ends....

    My regret, I'll be dead before spaces is opened up.

    Another attempt another place to get it right.

  • Probably cross-border listening stations intercepting calls from US numbers, that just happen to be within the US at the time. Whoops.

    The only complicated part of this is the 'find some jackass to give a legal justification'.

    ~Sticky

  • by Anonymous Coward

    And any of this matters how? Historically, all of the collective of government spy agencies (USA, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand), has made sharing of information opaque. Its not a 'request for information on a form', its a fat pipe 24/7/365 data stream. Now all of these countries have governments that strictly forbid that these agencies do not spy on the country they are in: The NSA does not spy on citizens within the United States, the GCHQ does not spy on citizens within the UK, the CSE does not s

    • by gknoy (899301)

      I'm pretty sure that most countries have laws prohibiting spying by foreign agents on their citizens, otherwise espionage would not be a crime. :)

  • by blair1q (305137) on Tuesday July 26, 2011 @06:29PM (#36889042) Journal

    With a warrant, any cop can do this.

    Why is it either a surprise or a scare that the NSA can, with what is bound to be much higher standards for justification (as long as the Republicans aren't in the White House, in which case justification involves merely setting up plausible deniability)?

    • by ThermalRunaway (1766412) on Tuesday July 26, 2011 @08:30PM (#36889998)
      As long as a Republican isn't in the White House? I suppose you have read all the new NSA directives since Obama has been in office that have upped the standard? Or are you referring to that time Obama signed the extension of the Patriot Act. Definitely higher standards there.

      Its the same from both sides, don't obscure the truth that the gov in general is running around destroying privacy and other rights while people fight about what side of some random carpeted aisle the idea came from...
    • by BitterOak (537666)

      With a warrant, any cop can do this.

      They can't with me, cause I don't drive around with my cell phone turned on.

      • by Thing 1 (178996)
        Yeah, I'm thinking of starting an organization, perhaps to be named "Fuck you, esse!" to hit both the Mexican drug war started by US policies, and also for the inverse LXPK-type reference. Anyway, the idea is this: produce devices that communicate with other devices, over whatever fucking infrastructure, with the communications being uninterceptable. Then, either laugh all the way to the bank -- or to the wrong side of the grass. (Which is why I'm no longer thinking of starting it.)
    • by Syberz (1170343)
      Standards? You really think that the NSA needs anything more than a hunch to do this?
  • Anyone within the intelligence community could have been able to "speak intelligently about it off the cuff'. It is clearly spelled out in Executive Order 12333 [archives.gov]. Everyone within the intelligence community is given yearly reinforcement training on it.

    The most important part that is emphasized during the training is that the US Intelligence Community cannot collect or maintain intelligence information on US citizens or those assumed to be US citizens (anyone physically in the US is considered a US citize
    • Murphy's law, anyone?

      That 99% of the intelligence gathering community is following the law to the letter is wonderful, but does not account for the damage that the 1% that are not following the law are doing. In so far as when things tend to go wrong, they go wrong catastrophically, you only need one agent in charge of important information to completely destroy the reason for having the agency in the first place. It's essentially a form of asymmetric warfare.

  • They will die of boredom. M-F - go to work/go home. Sat: go grocery shopping, go home. Sunday: go to church, go home. At home: surf Internet, mainly technology sites. This site is one of the "extremist" sites I go to. Damn, I'm boring.
  • by Desmoden (221564) on Tuesday July 26, 2011 @10:16PM (#36890534) Homepage

    Of course they track and watch some Americans. Some Americans are trying to do some very bad things. Simply being a US Citizen does not (unfortunately) mean you don't want to do harm.

    Does it need to be done carefully? yes
    Does it need oversight? YES
    Could it be abused? yes
    Can we stop doing it? no
    Do we really want them to stop it? NO

    it's not like after this http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trailblazer_Project [wikipedia.org] they just gave up that line of thought and went on to other things =)

    • Supposedly, there's FBI for taking care of US citizens who mean to do harm. NSA is restricted by law to deal with foreign communcations only.

  • What should the citizens be more worried about, a private company violating their privacy by hacking their phones or their government violating their privacy by doing the same?

    I know what I am more worried about, and it's not a private business (though, of-course, a private business that works with the government is another thing altogether.)

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