In a statement published on April 28th 2017, the National Security Agency (NSA) has announced that “After considerable evaluation of the program and available technology, NSA has decided that its Section 702 foreign intelligence surveillance activities will no longer include any upstream internet communications that are solely “about” a foreign intelligence target. Instead, this surveillance will now be limited to only those communications that are directly “to” or “from” a foreign intelligence target.” Meaning that the agency will no longer “acquire communications of U.S. persons or others who are not in direct contact with one of the Agency’s foreign intelligence targets.”
To put this into layman’s terms, the NSA will no longer be tracking “targets” to the “5th Degree.” Rather, they will now only be tracking people to the “1st Degree.”
View The Full NSA Press Briefing Here: https://www.nsa.gov/news-features/press-room/statements/2017-04-28-702-statement.shtml
To explain what this means, in an article written March 29th 2017, Alternative Medi4 describes how the NSA goes about the process of conducting investigations into targets brought in front of a “FISA Court.” The article goes on to explain how, “considering that every Federal Agency has the authority to track people to the 5th degree, many American citizens ‘incidentally’ get caught up in the surveillance net as these investigations play themselves out – this includes US citizens and even active US politicians.”
The article also explains how a warrant for one person/”target” ends up being “a de facto warrant for hundreds of thousands of people – the vast majority of which having nothing whatsoever to do with the original target of that warrant.” Considering that we are talking about thousands of new targets each year, the NSA ends up “legally” spying on and keeping records on hundreds of millions of people over the span of a few short years.
As someone whom has been openly critical about the actions of the Federal Government and NSA in particular, I just have to say that I am very impressed by this announcement and think it is a great overall move for the Agency to have made. Not just because this means less people are going to be spied upon in the future, but because the agency is now going to start focusing more of their attention on specific targets. From a logistical perspective, this will free up resources, assets and funds, which will allow the agency to conduct much more thorough investigations in the future.
For example, lets just say that the NSA employs 5,000 people to conduct investigations/surveillance on 10 million people each year. Remember, the NSA only conducts surveillance on 10 million people because the law allows them to investigate to the 5th Degree. Now imagine having those same 5,000 people, but they only have to investigate 100,000 people per year. This is essentially what the NSA is now going to start doing and though the NSA will have less overall investigations in the future, they will have far more detailed/focused ones as a result.
There is also another story central to the news today that would be remiss not to point out. You might recall Donald Trump’s infamous Tweet on March 4th 2017, referring to Barack Obama a “bad or sick guy” a few months ago? At the time, Trump had allegedly been informed that the Federal Government had spied on him and has been collecting his personal data as recently as 2016.
How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017
Turns out that Donald Trump wasn’t completely wrong, he was indeed “spied on” by the Federal Government. However, this was not done for malicious political reasons under the order of President Obama himself, rather, Trump was spied on by the NSA. Trump just happened to be one of those “incidental” US citizens that the NSA “accidentally” picks up when conducting surveillance to the 5th degree, along with hundreds of millions of others – including active members of US Congress and other Federal agencies.
Considering how mad Trump was about this whole issue to begin with, there is also little doubt that Trump did not have something to do with the NSA’s announcement this week. As of April 28th 2017, less than two months after the whole “wiretapping” fiasco, the Trump Administration has already rolled back the spying powers granted to the National Security Agency – a small victory for the privacy community and law abiding citizens alike.
It is also yet another interesting development inside the “cyber realm” over recent months, which has already seen the repealing of “Net Neutrality Laws” and the legal sell off of ISP Customer Data Records since the start of 2017.