I think the way this works is that the NSA is able to sift digital data for connections to enemy suspects. Once a connection is made, the NSA then may target the suspect for surveillance including the modern equivalent of “wiretapping.” As with any such monitoring, whomever calls or is called by the suspected enemy gets overheard, too.
I know many libertarians have been up in arms since the Snowden revelations about NSA data collecting. I am not. First, I always assumed that any call with a foreign national from Iran, Syria, Lebanon, and the like would be overheard. I have held no “expectation of privacy” during such calls. I assume if I speak with someone who has been involved in counter-terrorist warfare, that the NSA may be monitoring. Technology has moved beyond breaking into the telephone wire box and clipping leads on to listen in.
So, move all of this from digital data collection, spotting those connections to enemy suspects, and then actually recording the conversations with American citizens. We are told that a very limited number of people get to do that, and decide which citizens get “unmasked” and reported to higher up. Of course, this is where the Devil plays politics.
Again, if we are going to sift data, sort the connections to enemy suspects, and then selectively listen in, we are going to overhear Americans talking. As our country sorts out how to handle advances in technology and Islamic terrorism, international drug money laundering and the like, we at least need scrupulous accountability among the government officials dancing close to the Fourth Amendment’s cliff-edge with the NSA.
Liberty is a fragile condition, bought by shooting would-be tyrants, and coveted by wannabee kings. Liberty is a difficult to cling to wisp. Lying to the American people about how many of us are being spied on by our own government, is how we wake up one day in chains.
As always, I point out that the only reason our government takes measures like NSA data sifting and surveillance of American citizens and unmasking, and TSA probes for that matter, is that the same government betrayed us by letting the enemy into the gates.