NSA wants to protect country from itself, country needs protection from NSA


Last month, Tim Huelskamp, our Kansas representative in Congress, claimed that the National Security Agency is violating the Fourth Amendment. He also said that the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, committed perjury when he testified before congress in March. There, Clapper claimed that the NSA did not collect data on millions of Americans. In June, however, leaked documents showed that, in fact, the NSA has been monitoring the phone calls of Verizon customers for some time now.

And for the last few months since that information was released, America has been fighting back against this secret government program.

The Electric Frontier Foundation, a privacy rights group, is involved in several lawsuits against the NSA and government bodies over the constitutionality of the practice. Recently, along with tech companies, the foundation won a Freedom of Information Act request against the NSA. The act requested that data forcibly provided by U.S. tech companies be open for the public. The American Civil Liberties Union has also filed suit with Clapper himself, issuing “the challenge against illegal spying.”

With the public backlash, Congress is also stepping in. There are dozens of pending bills intended to reign in the powers of the Patriot Act and give Congress oversight over agencies like the NSA. U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton said he lost confidence in the NSA’s use of broad domestic surveillance back in March of 2009, and wanted to shut it down due to its lack of a distinct scope. He said he saw for a period of three years that the NSA was collecting phone records that proved to be unrelated to terrorist activity.

It looks more and more like that Dan Brown novel is coming true. In 1998 Brown, famous for “The Da Vinci Code,” released “Digital Fortress.” In the book, the NSA has built an evil super computer that it uses in brute force to attempt to break encrypted data. “Brute force” is the term for using a computer to plug-in all possible combinations of numbers and letters to break an encryption without the key.

The point is that there have been signs all along the way that this has been going on. But until this summer, it only covered the half of the shady business.

Because if the NSA only had a James Bond supervillian-esque super computer doing its brute force computations, then someone might owe Dan Brown a check. As it stands, it appears that the brute force computing is old news. The new way is setting up inside the infrastructure of networks that allow them to collect Internet and phone data before it is encrypted and sent out over the web.

These decryption tactics were made public in documents leaked by Edward Snowden, the NSA contractor who was approved for political asylum in Russia. While the Obama administration has called Snowden a traitor and charged him with espionage, I find it hard to listen to the president on this matter.

“You can’t have 100 percent security and also then have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience,” Obama said. “Nobody is listening to your telephone calls. That’s not what this program is about.”

The president went on to say both that the debate on the issue is healthy for our democracy, and that the disclosure by Snowden has only caused problems. It seems to me that the only problem so far is that the government has been caught spying on its own citizens.

How can the president claim that the NSA isn’t listening in when they have broken the code so they can do just that? The government can’t be trusted to scoop up encrypted data and save face while developing ways to read that data.

Close to 60 percent of Americans don’t like this system of domestic spying, according to the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. I can’t blame them. We are being told that this invasion of privacy is going to protect us from ourselves. Obama’s speech on security, however, came a month after the Boston Marathon bombing – an attack that the NSA didn’t prevent and a crime that was solved by Boston police.

The question is, just how safe can we be with the government spying on us when the IRS just got in trouble for targeting the president’s opponents? In an USA Today article that ran on Sept. 18, it revealed that the parameters that the IRS had for flagging groups seeking tax exempt status was “anti-Obama rhetoric and propaganda.” Over 80 percent of those listed were conservative or tea party organizations. Granted, while some of those applications were held up for lobbying – an activity that prevents one from qualifying – the overwhelming numbers suggest that the long arm of the law knows what the other hand is doing as well as the rest of us.

Patrick White is a senior in journalism and electronic media. Please send all comments to opinion@kstatecollegian.com