Fresh off of President Obama’s pledge for additional transparency, the Justice Department has released a newly created “memo” on the legal rationale for the NSA’s telephone surveillance program. The memo, far from being an old declassified document, was tailor-made for the release, and insists that much of the rationale has to remain “secret” because the program is classified. The arguments they did make about your phone calls are an eye-opener.
The memo explicitly argues that literally every phone call made in the United States is “relevant” to an ongoing investigation on terrorism because if you take data on all of those phone calls and put it all in a database, some of the information in that database might be relevant. By extension, they claim, all of the component calls are also relevant, even if they don’t contain any specific information that is at all related.
The memo goes on to reject privacy concerns by insisting that Americans have no “reasonable expectation” that their phone calls aren’t constantly being monitored by the government, adding that the public interest trumps privacy because “terrorism.”
The Justice Department insists that if the question of “relevance” was ever brought up in the secret FISA courts, they would uphold the argument that anything adjacent to something relevant becomes itself relevant. Since the FISA courts notoriously sign off on everything the government wants, there is little reason to doubt that.
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