The New American has a must read piece on how the government pretty much eavesdrops on all of us, all of the time. They aren’t listening in on every conversation or reading every email, but they do capture and store all of this information. The news came out when it was announced that they knew of a phone call between the Boston bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev and his wife.
Sari Horwitz, a writer from the Washington Post reporting on the investigation of Katherine Russell, the wife of the deceased Boston bomber, inadvertently mentioned in an article that federal officials had access to the content of phone calls Russell tried to make to her husband when she learned of his involvement in the incident. Buried inside the fifth paragraph of the Post’s report was this: “Officials said that Russell called her husband when she saw his photograph on television — following the FBI’s release of the pictures of the suspects….”
Almost immediately Erin Burnett, the host of CNN’sOutfront, wanted to know how the government knew. Aren’t phone calls supposed to be private? …..
Glenn Greenwald, writing in the Guardian, explained just what kind of “stuff” the FBI is able to track: “All digital communications — meaning phone calls, emails, online chats and the like — are automatically recorded and stored and [are] accessible to the government after the fact. To describe that is to define what a ubiquitous, limitless Surveillance State is.”
Greenwald pointed to the experience of Mark Klein, covered by the Washington Post back in 2007, when he was working as an AT&T technician in San Francisco in 2002. He was interrupted by an agent from the National Security Agency (NSA) who then introduced Klein to the system the NSA was setting up to “vacuum up internet and phone call data from ordinary Americans” with the help of AT&T.
One thing I wonder about, though, is if they have this ability to monitor our phone calls and emails, did they listen to any of the Tsarnaevs’ communications after they were warned about Tamerlan by the Russians? My guess is that they didn’t, so it doesn’t sound like they’re making very good use of these massive snooping powers.
Oh, and on a somewhat related note, the feds never shared the information they received on Tsarnaev from the Russians with the Boston police.