The US government has persisted with efforts to spy on every single, man woman and child in the America despite widespread opposition.

According to mainstream press reports, a “top secret” document has revealed that under the Obama administration, the National Security Agency (NSA) has requested the details of every single phone record made both in the US and outside of it.

It is currently collecting records of millions of US customers from telecoms providers Verizon, under an order made in April.

This is regardless of whether they have been found guilty of any wrongdoing. The revelations have led to widespread outrage and condemnation in the press and among campaigners.

It was also reported that the man who was credited with blowing the lid on the whole affair was Edward Snowden, a former CIA analyst who it is said, is currently hiding out in China amid an extradition request from the US.

Not only has the US administration been caught spying on its own citizens, but it was also keeping tabs on Chinese politicians, universities and businesses as well, according to the whistleblower.

In an interview with the South China Morning Post, he claimed the agency had hundreds of targets – including the Chinese University of Hong Kong – from as far back as 2009, but that these were just a fraction of the 61,000 NSA hacking operations carried out globally.

His actions were both praised and condemned – with US House Speaker John Boehner, calling him a traitor, while others branded him a hero.

But in the exclusive interview, he said: ‘I’m neither traitor nor hero. I’m an American.’

He also spoke of his fears that the US may exert pressure on China to extradite him – while other commentators, such as Ron Paul expressed fears that the US may try to use drones to stake him out.

The secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (Fisa) granted the order to the FBI on April 25th, giving US government agencies unlimited authority to obtain a blanket order containing the numbers of all parties on a telephone call, as well as location data, call duration, unique identifiers, and the time of all calls.
It is claimed that the contents of the calls themselves are not handed over. Although this mass surveillance had originally started under the Bush administration, this is the first time significant and top-secret documents have revealed the continuation of the practice on a massive scale under President Obama.

It raises questions over whether these policies are decided at government level – or whether the US administrations themselves are being influenced by powerful figures behind-the-scenes.
But both Ron Wyden and Mark Udall have publicly claimed that the secret court orders actually have more far-reaching implications than is currently known.
They claim that the US government is relying on “secret legal interpretations” to claim surveillance powers so broad that the American public would be “stunned” to learn of the kind of domestic spying being conducted. Under US law, both were restricted from revealing which domestic surveillance programs they find so alarming. The only powers they have so far been able to speak about publicly are these recent revelations of mass electronic surveillance.
The electronic records reveal to the government the identity of every person with whom an individual interacts with electronically, how long they spoke, and their location at the time of the communication.

Ron Wydall

Ron Wydall


Mark Udall

Mark Udall

Under the fourth amendment of the US constitution, no citizen may be subject to unreasonable searches and seizures, along with requiring any warrant to be judicially sanctioned and supported by probable cause. It is also covered under Article 12 of the Universal declaration of Human Rights.

But the Supreme Court has long argued that the Fourth Amendment does not apply in this case because of their assertion that when one shares information with a third party, one has no “reasonable expectation of privacy” with respect to the government obtaining that information from the third party.

Last year in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, both Wyden and Udall warned: “We believe most Americans would be stunned to learn the details of…these secret court opinions. As we see it, there is now a significant gap between what most Americans think the law allows and what the government secretly claims the law allows.”

The Obama administration has justified their actions by citing the ongoing, “war on terror”. Their argument was that the collection of personal data of ordinary citizens is an essential measure in the never-ending war.

Specifically, two pieces of legislation have made it easier for them to pass this law, namely, Section 215 of the widely despised Patriot Act and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). FISA allows courts to approve legal orders to track communications coming into or exiting the US, while the Patriot Act allows the government to demand “business records” from any business, so long as they are “relevant to an authorized investigation…to obtain foreign intelligence information…or to protect against international terrorism.”

These types of orders are usually obtained in secret, as this one was, and until now little was known about how extensively the government relied upon them, or how “relevant” was interpreted.

In the wake of the scandal, tech giants Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, and Apple desperately sought to distance themselves from the debacle, despite having reportedly complied with the requests.

Google in particular, has released an open letter asking the U.S. Department of Justice for permission to disclose the number and scope of data requests each receives from security agencies, including confidential requests made under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

These were closely followed by Microsoft and Facebook. Google has come under fire under the last few days amid claims that it allowed the FBI to have unlimited access to data held on its servers.

The company was reported to have participated in PRISM, a program that required tech companies to hand over millions of personal records to the federal government.

All of the big names in search and tech are reported to have participated – although all have denied any knowledge of, or participation in the PRISM program.

Some of them have allegedly given direct access to their servers so that the federal government can live-stream data.

Other internet companies that are typically fierce rivals quickly closed ranks around Google. Sources close to the three companies said the statements were not coordinated.

Social network provider Facebook followed within minutes. A survey released by privacy campaign group, Big Brother Watch published earlier this year revealed that 68 per cent of people are concerned about their privacy. A further 66 per cent of the British public say that national regulators should be doing more to force Google to comply with existing European directives on privacy and the protection of personal data.

But the British government, under the leadership of Cameron is doing the exact same thing.

Under the Communications Data Bill, dubbed the ‘snoopers charter’ both police and security services would have sweeping powers to monitor internet and phone use in the same way as the US authorities.

Campaigners had warned about the use of such powers as far back as the early 90s, and were branded conspiracy theorists, but it has now become official with the introduction of this legislation.

The Liberal Democrats have reportedly blocked the Communications Data Bill. But cabinet secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood is trying to push ahead with the bill by considering a number of options to reintroduce it by the back door.

One option being considered is to use a 2006 European Union directive on data retention, which was introduced conveniently after the 2005 London bombings, but was never fully implemented.

This would mandate internet and phone companies to store data for 12 months and hand over all of the data relating to electronic records, that they already retain for billing and other business purposes. Supporters of the snoopers charter argue that this could provide a “back door” solution to the coalition stalemate which would not require backing to get through Parliament.

But this option, is at least limited in scope, because it does not capture social media data, or Skype phone calls, that are no longer or never have been recorded for billing purposes.
Recently, it was reported that a senior security official at the MI5 approached the Independent newspaper and warned that the Communications Data Bill will be ineffective in preventing terrorism.

All of these directives to conduct spying on a mass scale on the public are part of the ongoing “war on terror” – with the definition of ‘terror’ being expanded on an almost daily basis.

Terrorism legislation for example has been used to arrest and detain animal rights protesters, anti-war activists and to catch and punish those who put their bins out on the wrong day.

When it becomes clear that such virulent legislation extends way beyond the scope to which it was originally intended, it could potentially lead us down a very slippery slope to tyranny indeed.

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