The National Security Agency is currently collecting the telephone records of millions of US customers of Verizon, one of America’s largest telecoms providers, under a top secret court order issued in April.
The order, a copy of which has been obtained by the Guardian, requires Verizon on an “ongoing, daily basis” to give the NSA information on all telephone calls in its systems, both within the US and between the US and other countries.
The document shows for the first time that under the Obama administration the communication records of millions of US citizens are being collected indiscriminately and in bulk – regardless of whether they are suspected of any wrongdoing.
The phrase “government monitoring” used to invoke an image of FBI agents in a van recording specific phone calls. That changed when Edward Snowden published documents revealing that the technology is now in place to monitor every conversation transmitted across our entire society and search through the results. These documents revealed mass searches by the United States government that violated the 4th amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. This is a major failure of the oversight that keeps our government within the legal boundaries we have established for it. If regulation is enacted that limits the use of encryption it would remove the main recourse by which individuals have acted to protect their 4th amendment rights against these violations by the government.
A lot of data was leaked by Edward Snowden. For a good overview see the Washington Post’s timeline of what was revealed. See this Wired piece for a description of one of the data centers involved in mass monitoring.
An audit the NSA carried out themselves revealed thousands of documented privacy violations. The ACLU filed a lawsuit detailing legal violations by the NSA. In a separate case, a federal judge ruled that the NSA’s mass monitoring was almost certainly unconsitutional.
It is easy to see how mass monitoring violates the constitution. This is the 4th amendment:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches an seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
At the very least, the “particularly describing” language is violated by mass monitoring.