January 6, 2006 | By Danny O'Brien

Illegal NSA Wiretapping Program Involved Data-Mining

News reports over the holidays revealed that the US National Security Agency (NSA)'s presidentially-approved domestic spying program is even broader than the White House acknowledged.

First it was revealed that the Administration has been wiretapping the international phone and email communications of people inside the US without getting search warrants.

Now we learn that, according to the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, the NSA has gained access to major telecommunications switches inside the US, giving it essentially unchecked access not only to international communications but to purely domestic emails and phone calls as well. Those newspapers, and a new book by New York Times reporter James Risen, have further revealed that the NSA has been using that access--as well as access to telecommunications companies' databases--to data-mine Internet logs and phone logs for suspicious patterns, presumably to find new targets for the wiretapping program.

The continuing revelations about the NSA's illegal surveillance activities make a mockery of the current debate over USA PATRIOT reform. The Administration has been vigorously arguing against adding any new checks and balances to its foreign intelligence capabilities in the new PATRIOT renewal bill, yet the White House has now admitted that it authorized the NSA to bypass the few checks and balances remaining after PATRIOT. What good is legislative reform if the Administration considers itself above the law?

EFF is actively investigating all options for going to court and challenging the NSA program. However, the exact scope of the "President's Program," as it has been called, is still very unclear, and these new revelations show just how badly a Congressional inquiry is needed to get to the bottom of things. Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) has vowed to hold hearings in the Senate Judiciary Committee, but neither the House nor Senate Intelligence Committees has announced similar plans. What is needed here is a full-court press from Congress -- it appears that the facts we've gotten so far are potentially the tip of the iceberg.

Specter's hearings start this month. The debate over PATRIOT will resume, too, as the "sunsetting" provisions of the Act are now set to expire on February 3rd. Particularly in light of the NSA scandal, Congress should not even consider renewing the spying powers in the PATRIOT Act until the public hears the full story of the President's Program.

Visit our Action Center and tell your Senators and Representative to support hearings on the NSA program and oppose PATRIOT renewal.


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