NSA wants increased powers

Stan Ward

Stan Ward

March 26, 2015

A recent Guardian article by Trevor Timm highlights the efforts by the NSA to become more ubiquitous in the surveillance arena as it lobbies for even more spying powers. It is emboldened by a little known but recently leaked directive inked by President Obama even as he was campaigning for a second term in which he called for an expanded list of hacking targets all over the world. Based on past articles by our staff, it would seem the NSA has warmed to the task!

The article also points out the glaring lack of action over the past two years in the area of surveillance reform, and how this might have contributed to the NSA’s hubris in enlarging the breadth and scope of its hacking operations – both domestically and internationally.

That the NSA is lobbying for more power to go on a cyber-offensive and appears to be hamstrung otherwise is patently absurd, opines Timm. It seems that a nearly trillion dollar budget is insufficient for the surveillance appetite of the NSA. According to Edward Snowden, the agency already possesses the capability to automatically hack computers overseas that attempt to hack systems in the US. That is a fortuitous outcome, and I’m all for it, but when it comes to expanding other capabilities, I draw the line. This is apparently not enough overreach to suit the NSA. They persist, spending tens of millions of dollars per year to procure software vulnerabilities from private malware vendors (holes in software that make hacking much easier).

To accommodate this voracious craving for private information, NSA director Mike Rogers is lobbying for a new measure that would force companies to install backdoors into all their encryption. This idea has been echoed before by agencies such as the NSA, and was the backdrop for President Obama’s “digital summit” last month in Silicon Valley, which has as expected provoked condemnation and scorn from the entire security community – including a very public reproach by Yahoo’s top security executive, Alex Stamos, who pronounced such measures would be a disaster for the very cyber security that the NSA purports to wish to protect.

Not content to slam the government’s cyber security efforts, Timm also bemoans the lack of accountability emanating from the legislative branch of government, arguing that the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA) as an abomination – an excuse to empower the NSA with more cyber spying powers without prudent judicial involvement or oversight.

While all this is playing out, attention is being diverted from an even more important issue – the Patriot Act – specifically expiration of the unctuous section 215 – from which most of the spy apparatuses have gleaned the power to vacuum up citizen’s phone records. Unless it is renewed in June by Congress, it will expire.

Perhaps, the NSA smells defeat in this area, and is ratcheting up its efforts to secure its surveillance superiority lest it lose power because of Section 215’s demise. I think the lack of discourse between the administration and Congress over section 215 is merely a ploy by supporters of its being extended. I think the hope is that the American public will be so distracted by other things that this odious provision will slip through unnoticed and unchallenged.

Privacy advocates in America should not be so easily duped, nor allow a decade old statute such as this, which allows spying and restriction of liberties with impunity, to go unopposed. If they do so, this will lend approval to the type of repression they ostensibly campaigns so hard to prevent, effectively surrendering to the forces that seek to stifle personal expression.

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