Spying on Americans through Cellphone Carriers
NSA Spying: 'If We Tell You, We'll Have to Kill You'
By Tom Burghardt
Global Research, July 14, 2012
URL of this article: www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=31899
What most Americans are blissfully unaware of is the fact that they carry in their pockets what have been described as near-perfect spy devices: their cellphones.
When Congress passed the FISA Amendments Act (FAA) in 2008, a privacy-killing law that gutted First, Fourth and Fifth Amendment protections for Americans while granting immunity to giant telecoms that assisted the National Security Agency's (NSA) warrantless wiretapping programs, we were assured that the government "does not spy" on our communications.
Yet scarcely a year after FAA was signed into law by President Bush, The New York Times revealed that under Hope and Change(TM) huckster Barack Obama, NSA continued the previous regime's illegal practices, intercepting "private e-mail messages and phone calls of Americans in recent months on a scale that went beyond the broad legal limits established by Congress last year."
The wholesale vacuuming-up of private communications by the sprawling Pentagon bureaucracy were described by unnamed "senior officials" as the "'overcollection' of domestic communications of Americans;" in other words, a mere technical "glitch" in an otherwise "balanced" program.
But what most Americans are blissfully unaware of is the fact that they carry in their pockets what have been described as near-perfect spy devices: their cellphones.
Earlier this week, The New York Times disclosed that "cellphone carriers reported that they responded to a startling 1.3 million demands for subscriber information last year from law enforcement agencies seeking text messages, caller locations and other information in the course of investigations."
The report by carriers, made in response to congressional inquiries "document an explosion in cellphone surveillance in the last five years, with the companies turning over records thousands of times a day in response to police emergencies, court orders, law enforcement subpoenas and other requests."
"I never expected it to be this massive," said Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-MA), the co-chair of the Bipartisan Congressional Privacy Caucus, "who requested the reports from nine carriers, including AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon."
Markey told the Times that the prevalence of cellphone surveillance by law enforcement agencies raised the specter of "digital dragnets" that threaten the privacy of most customers.
While the sheer volume of requests by local, state and federal police for user data may have startled Congress, which by-and-large has turned a blind eye when it comes to privacy depredations at all levels of government, it is hardly a complete picture of the pervasive nature of the problem.
In 2009 security watchdog Christopher Soghoian reported on his Slight Paranoia web site that just one firm, Sprint Nextel, "provided law enforcement agencies with its customers' (GPS) location information over 8 million times between September 2008 and October 2009. This massive disclosure of sensitive customer information was made possible due to the roll-out by Sprint of a new, special web portal for law enforcement officers." (emphasis added)
According to Soghoian, "Internet service providers and telecommunications companies play a significant, yet little known role in law enforcement and intelligence gathering."
"Government agents routinely obtain customer records from these firms," Soghoian averred, "detailing the telephone numbers dialed, text messages, emails and instant messages sent, web pages browsed, the queries submitted to search engines, and of course, huge amounts of geolocation data, detailing exactly where an individual was located at a particular date and time."
While there are indeed "exigent circumstances" which may require law enforcement to demand instant access to GPS data or other customer records--a kidnapping or child abduction in progress--in the main however, it appears that most warrant-free requests fall under a more sinister category: fishing expedition.
Commenting on congressional revelations, ACLU legislative counsel Christopher Calabrese informed us that data supplied to the Times represents "a vast undercount of the number of Americans who have been affected by this tracking. Sprint disclosed that it received approximately 500,000 subpoenas in 2011 (a subpoena is a written request for information from law enforcement that isn't reviewed by a judge) and that 'each subpoena typically requested subscriber information on multiple subscribers.' In addition, several carriers disclosed that they sometimes provide all the information from a particular cell tower or particular area".
Although several geolocation privacy bills that require warrants to obtain records are pending in Congress, it should be clear there is no consensus among ruling class elites for protecting the privacy rights of Americans or reining-in overly-intrusive police agencies.
In fact, the opposite is the case.
Under Obama, illegal surveillance programs once hidden behind code-named black projects such as STELLAR WIND and PINWALE have been greatly expanded. Indeed, the bipartisan consensus which encourages and permits the secret state to carry out warrantless wiretapping and data mining have been "regularized" to such a degree (under the rubric of "keeping us safe") they're no longer even regarded as controversial.
More than three years ago, Obama promised to "fix" illegal policies which surfaced under the previous Bush government. However, an anonymous "senior official" told the Times there were certain "technical problems" that led the agency "to inadvertently 'target' groups of Americans and collect their domestic communications without proper court authority. Officials are still trying to determine how many violations may have occurred."
It was further revealed that some of the groups "inadvertently" targeted by NSA and other spy satrapies (CIA, DHS, FBI, et. al.) included Muslim Americans, anarchist and socialist groups, libertarians, civil liberties organizations, antiwar activists as well as individual supporters of the secrecy-spilling web site WikiLeaks.
Just last week the Bradley Manning Support Network disclosed that "A letter dated May 18, 2012, which purports to originate from the US Army Criminal Investigative Division (CID), rejects a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request submitted for data the government has collected on the Bradley Manning Support Network. The letter states that 'an active investigation is in progress with an undetermined completion date'."
As readers recall, Manning is the Army private accused by the government of releasing hundreds of thousands of secret files to WikiLeaks. He currently faces charges that could lead to decades of incarceration.
"At this time," Network supporters wrote, "it is unclear whether the investigation cited in the FOIA denial simply refers to the government's ongoing legal retaliation against Bradley Manning, or whether there is actually some other separate investigation targeting the Support Network."
It's a sure bet, given the administration's ongoing war against whistleblowers, that the Army as well the Justice Department has the Manning Support Network--along with WikiLeaks--in their gun sights.
And with the construction of NSA's giant $2 billion Utah Data Center nearing completion, as James Bamford reported in Wired Magazine in March, the agency's ability "to intercept, decipher, analyze, and store vast swaths of the world's communications as they zap down from satellites and zip through the underground and undersea cables of international, foreign, and domestic networks" will soon take a qualitative leap forward--at our expense.
With FAA currently up for renewal, and with congressional grifters on both sides of the a