Targeted Surveillance Could Be the New Weapon against Terrorism

By Takala, Rudy | Examiner (Washington, D.C.), The, December 14, 2015 | Go to article overview

Targeted Surveillance Could Be the New Weapon against Terrorism


Takala, Rudy, Examiner (Washington, D.C.), The


Years of disclosures about spying by the federal government have made Americans increasingly wary about mass surveillance regimes, and lawmakers have responded by seeking to impose more restrictions on such programs. But there are indications that targeted deterrence efforts could be on the rise as indiscriminate surveillance recedes.

"I think people are increasingly aware that their privacy is under threat," Michael Fertik, a Harvard lawyer who founded the privacy-protection website Reputation.com, told the Washington Examiner. "They don't know how their privacy is threatened, or what happens to their data ... they just don't like invasion of their privacy."

As a result, lawmakers have taken aim at the surveillance state. "The bulk collection of innocent Americans' data is not only a government intrusion, but it also overwhelms intelligence agents, increasing the likelihood they miss crucial information," Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., said on Dec. 8. "The promulgation that the terrorist onslaught in Paris could've been prevented under the NSA's overbearing bulk data collection program is fundamentally false. It was still in effect at the time of the Boston Marathon and Paris attacks, as well as the lead up to the attacks in San Bernardino."

Sensenbrenner, who authored the 2001 Patriot Act authorizing greater surveillance, was speaking in reference to the end of bulk metadata collection by the National Security Agency in November. The program, which represented the largest known surveillance regime to date, has occupied a place of particular prominence in public attention, largely because some presidential candidates have continued to lament its end.

Two major bipartisan proposals circulating in Congress are likely to create additional privacy protections next year. One is a bill to reform the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, or ECPA, by requiring a warrant to access information in digital communications like email. The second is a proposal to limit how far local law enforcement agencies can go in conducting the same sort of bulk surveillance previously performed by the NSA.

In part, bulk data collection has been a necessity of the Obama administration, which believes targeted collection is inappropriate. Presidential Policy Directive 28, promulgated in 2014, declared that intelligence services "must take into account [that] all persons should be treated with dignity and respect, regardless of their nationality or wherever they may reside and that all persons have legitimate privacy interests. …

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