Believe It: NSA Collects and Stores Content, Not Just “Metadata”

President Obama has repeatedly attempted to obfuscate the issue of NSA’s actively spying on Americans by repeatedly referring to “metadata”: information about where, when and to whom people make phone calls, but not the actual phone conversations.

Most recently, he garnered wide press coverage by promising to limit the collection of phone metadata.

But this is just a smokescreen. It had already been revealed that phone conversations are routinely recorded and stored—as when the Director of the FBI revealed that NSA had archived phone calls of alleged Boston marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev:

There’s a way to look at digital communications in the past. …I can tell you that no digital communication is secure.

Newly revealed yesterday, Microsoft, Google, Facebook and Yahoo have turned over tens of thousands of their customers’ data to U.S. government authorities every six months as the result of secret court orders.

The tech companies remain under severe gag orders for disclosing what information they are passing on to the government, but even these broad brushstrokes paint a fairly graphic picture:

Yahoo disclosed that it gave the government communications content from between 30,000 and 30,999 accounts over the first six months of 2013, and fewer than 1,000 customer accounts that were subject to Fisa court orders for metadata. [emphasis added]

Communications content that is indefinitely stored, to be read and listened to at will, that can be edited, extracted, twisted to convey guilt from even the most innocent communication:

“If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find something in them which will hang him.”—Armand Jean du Plessis, cardinal-duc de Richelieu et de Fronsac (1585-1642)

If this concerns you, please join our efforts to shut the NSA down. Government doesn’t reform itself.

Mary L. G. Theroux is Senior Vice President of the Independent Institute. Having received her A.B. in economics from Stanford University, she is Managing Director of Lightning Ventures, L.P., a San Francisco Bay Area investment firm, former Chairman of the Board of Advisors for the Salvation Army of both San Francisco and Alameda County, and Vice President of the C.S. Lewis Society of California.
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