NSAs privacy pledges not enough

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NSAs privacy pledges not enough for some in Congress BY Daniel Verton 03/01/2000 MORE INFO

Legal Standards Governing the Intelligence Communitys Conduct of Electronic Surveillance

Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Requires the intelligence agency to obtain a court order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court if the target of the surveillance is a U.S. person as defined by law.

Executive Order 12333. Signed by President Ronald Regan in 1981. Prohibits the collection, retention, or dissemination of information about U.S. persons except pursuant to procedures established by the head of the agency and approved by the Attorney General.

The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and 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.

The National Security Agencys assurances that it does not intentionally eavesdrop on the electronic communications of U.S. citizens and that it adheres to legal guidelines governing its activities are not enough for some members of Congress, who plan to hold hearings on the agency and its activities later this year.

Shortly after NSA delivered to Congress a report on the legal standards governing the intelligence communitys electronic surveillance conduct, as required by the fiscal 2000 Intelligence Authorization Act, Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.) sent a letter to NSAs director, Air Force Maj. Gen. Michael Hayden, outlining "problems" with current laws and regulations.

In his Feb. 28 letter, Barr said Haydens assurances that the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution adequately protects citizens privacy regardless of the technologies used in NSAs electronic surveillance operations "grossly oversimplifies the difficulty of protecting privacy in light of recent technological advances."

NSA is a civilian intelligence agency within the Defense Department responsible for intercepting and analyzing communications signals of foreign adversaries and terrorist groups. However, the agencys activities have come under scrutiny as a result of widespread allegations that it takes part in a global surveillance network known as Echelon that regularly intercepts the communications of private citizens worldwide.

Sources on Capitol Hill say Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, plans to hold hearings on NSA activities soon and may meet with Barr in the next few weeks to map out a hearing strategy.

In his letter to Hayden, Barr, a member of the Government Reform Committee and a former CIA officer, said he is concerned about the ability of current laws and executive orders to keep pace with information technology.

"As past NSA abuses have shown, privacy rights are better protected by relying on an evolving, explicit legal structure than by solely on the good faith of government employees wielding massive power and reciting generalities," Barr wrote.


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), March 01, 2000

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