America, NSA Surveillance is Bad for BusinessBy Michael German, Senior Policy Counsel, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 9:50am
The New York Times last week provided new information that clarified how a key, yet unnamed, National Security Agency surveillance program designed to "target" foreigners' Internet communications actually worked, namely by secretly snatching and sifting virtually all Americans' international communications.
This ubiquitous government surveillance harms more than just our personal privacy, and American businesses need to pay particular attention. Within the piece, a key point was buried in a discussion about the program's ineffectiveness at finding terrorists. An unnamed government official explained "[t]he surveillance was used for other types of foreign intelligence collection, not just terrorism."
"Foreign intelligence" is defined broadly in the statute, to include any information relating to U.S. "foreign affairs," which the government interprets to include trade, travel, currency transactions, and international business matters. We believe this puts American companies in the crosshairs of these collection programs. Here is a letter I wrote several years ago in preparation for a meeting with business groups when Congress passed the first version of the bill that authorized this type of broad surveillance. Unfortunately, our concerns haven't changed much. (The following has been slightly edited to account for a 2008 update to the law):
On August 4, 2007 Congress changed the nature of the relationship American citizens have with their government. The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guaranteed the right of the people "to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures," or put more simply, the right to be left alone absent probable cause and a warrant issued by a neutral magistrate. But now our government can seize the private international communications of all...