In testimony last week before the Senate Judiciary Committee, the director of the National Security Agency assured lawmakers that the agency does not secretly monitor Americans on social media.
The remarks by Gen. Keith Alexander contradicted a report published last week that revealed that, since 2010, NSA has secretly created “sophisticated graphs of some Americans’ social connections that can identify their associates, their locations at certain times, their traveling companions and other personal information.”
Though Gen. Alexander insists the Times report was “inaccurate and wrong,” we find the paper’s report more persuasive. Not the least because it directly quoted an NSA memorandum, dated January 2011, which said the general’s agency was authorized to conduct “large-scale graph analysis on very large sets of communications metadata” on persons of interest. That metadata includes Facebook profiles.
Gen. Alexander confirmed that his agency collects data from social networks as part of building dossiers on foreign terror suspects. But he denies that the NSA maintains files on Americans.
But, again, there’s the January 2011 NSA memo, which stated that the large-scale graph analysis was authorized “without having to check foreigness” of persons being monitored.
That authorization effectively allowed NSA analysis of “enrichment” data on American citizens that previously had been permitted only in the cases of foreign nationals.
Meanwhile, Gen. Alexander also acknowledged last week that, in 2010-11, NSA tested whether it could track Americans’ cell phone locations. “This may be something that is a future requirement for the country,” he said. “But it is not right now.”
Well, the American people are to be forgiven if they found Gen. Alexander’s congressional testimony troubling.
While the NSA may not be secretly monitoring each and every American on social media, it is, indeed, monitoring some unspecified number, some of whom may be directly linked to terrorists, and many of which, we suspect, may not.
And while the NSA doesn’t currently use the capability to track Americans by their cell phones, the general hints that such secret surveillance may soon become part of the agency’s standard operating procedure.
Congress currently is considering changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. At the very least, we believe, it should include stronger protection of privacy rights so that the NSA doesn’t have license to monitor innocent Americans on social media and follow their movements by tracking their phones.
The Orange County Register