In recent years, Americans have become accustomed to the idea of advertisers gathering wide swaths of information about their private transactions. The N.S.A.’s collecting of data looks a lot like what Facebook does, but it is fundamentally different. It inverts the crucial legal principle of probable cause: the government may not seize or inspect private property or information without evidence of a crime. The N.S.A. contends that it needs haystacks in order to find the terrorist needle. Its definition of a haystack is expanding; there are indications that, under the auspices of the “business records” provision of the Patriot Act, the intelligence community is now trying to assemble databases of financial transactions and cell-phone location information. [Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate Senate Select Committee on Intelligence] maintains that data collection is not surveillance. But it is no longer clear if there is a distinction.
December 10, 2013
Ryan Lizza in The New Yorker. Excerpt: