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Wiretapping, as it was called and was portrayed in movies and television, was done when the police wanted to surveil the conversations of suspects or persons of interest. The process usually involved getting a court order from a judge, giving permission to the authorities and police to place aside a person’s right to privacy in the interests of public safety.
Wiretapping went the way of the wired telephone when wireless data-based cell phones were introduced. From that point forward, the collection of data and the content within phone calls became concerns of citizens desiring to protect their rights to privacy.
Edward Snowden caused a firestorm of controversy when he fled the country and revealed the secrets to which he was privy. Snowden relayed that the government was not just spying on suspects; it was collecting all the data from virtually all cell phones being used in the United States.
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The massive data collection program was done in secret, without the traditional case by case court orders from judges. In fact, a secret court, known as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), was used to legalize the NSA’s actions. Snowden, some say, is a traitor; yet others call him a freedom fighter. Regardless of one’s opinion of Snowden, the consequences of his actions were brought to the attention of politicians, the citizenry, the press, and the world. The group behind the massive spying on Americans was and is the NSA, the National Security Agency of the federal government.
The NSA ended a portion of its massive surveillance program at midnight on Sunday as a result of the USA Freedom Act of 2015. The Freedom Act was signed into law and made it illegal for the NSA to continue the collection of metadata of cell phone conversations from Americans; yet controversy still remains within NSA data collection practices.
Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, praised the ending of the NSA spying program and issued a statement on what he called the “NSA Phone Records Dragnet.” In his statement, Wyden also advises that there are other programs within the NSA that still need to be revised in order to protect the privacy rights of Americans, and that there is still much more work to be done to ensure our right to privacy. For example, the NSA’s PRISM program, which collects vast amounts of internet data, is still ongoing.
The following is Wyden’s statement:
This is a victory for everyone who believes in protecting both American security and Americans’ constitutional rights. Today the NSA is shutting down a mass surveillance program that needlessly violated the privacy of millions of Americans every day, without making our country any safer.
This program’s very existence was concealed from the American public for over a decade. Across two administrations, senior officials from US intelligence agencies and the Justice Department repeatedly made false and misleading statements that concealed the truth about what they were doing. These officials relied on a secret body of law to justify the mass surveillance of the American people.
Fortunately, in America sooner or later the truth always comes out. When Americans found out about this secret, unconstitutional surveillance two years ago, they were rightfully outraged. And they made their voices heard. The result was historic reform legislation that required the government to shut this program down.
I am grateful to every American who stood up and made his or her voice count on this issue, and to all of my colleagues who listened to them. Former senators Russ Feingold and Mark Udall, in particular, both fought tirelessly to end mass surveillance long before it was public.
In fifteen years of service on the Senate Intelligence Committee, I have seen many reminders that this is a dangerous world, and the recent attacks in Paris and Mali are just the latest brutal examples. After every such attack, politicians who would play to Americans’ fears call for liberty to be sacrificed in the name of security. I reject those calls. And as long as Americans continue to demand that their government protect both their security and their liberty, I am confident that our country can deal with these threats without sacrificing our most cherished rights and values.