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How NSA Does It
Jerry Nelson, Ph.D.
Feb06, revised 28Apr2011, 18Jun2012


Hello, everyone.

At the end of 2005, the New York Times revealed the government's warrantless wiretapping program. The  National Security Agency (NSA) is tapping American's phones without first getting a judge to pass judgment on the need to invade a citizen's privacy.  No judge was ever asked for a wiretap warrant.  

A special court was available, called the FISA court (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court).  Laws passed by Congress required the President to go to this court, but he did not.  The President said that we were at war, he was the Commander in Chief,  and he didn't have to obey laws or do what the Legislative Branch legislated.  He used fancier language, but that's the gist.  

The Executive Branch has refused to tell very many Congressman very much about how the NSA system works. The secrecy seemed pointless to me, since any good technologist could figure it out.  So I did.  Not even your elected representatives could find out what I am about to tell you.  

Ever written to someone in Congress?

It's not hard to write to Congress people -- there are links at the bottom for finding out who represents you.  A Congressperson will always answer a constituent.  These other Congresspeople are also easy to find and very important:  
I leave you with one thought:  neither God nor Nature owe the United States of America a democracy.  If citizens give away all their freedoms, eventually they will have none.  When the powerful have all the options and you have none, you are toast.

Democracies are not conquered.  Democracies do not end when outsiders force them into subjugation.  Democracies end when their citizens vote for a strongman who promises to protect them.  

Here is how the National Security Agency is protecting you.    


An Educated Guess
Summary: The National Security Agency (NSA) is opening so many phone taps that it is physically impossible to obtain court-reviewed warrants. It is time to forget warrants and move on.  This Administration certainly has.

Nothing in your piece is contrary to my technical knowledge of
encryption, telephony, voice recognition or data mining techniques. 
I found it lucid, compelling and informative.  Thanks for that.
--Edward Youngs,
Bell Labs, Bellcore/Telcordia, US West.

Summary:  You can tap only one phone line, but on the Internet you can only tap everything because there are no lines.  Extending phone surveillance to telephone calls (VoIP) on the Internet requires surveillance of everything we do on line.  The nation's  transition in telecommunications infrastructure will be as tumultuous for civic society and constitutional law as it already has been for the financial community and the boom-to-bust industry itself. 

Great papers, and required reading
for anyone who wants to start getting serious about this field.
--Tim  (Prof. Timothy Wu)
Columbia Law School

NSA HQ bldg

NSA campus, Ft. Meade, MD

I thank Kent Gladstone, Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), 
for a critical reading of both manuscripts.  
Many critical comments and corrections from Brad Howard
have made the Mini-Tutorial a better adventure for anyone who follows his path. 

For information on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act itself, the court that administers it, and many related links, see the Federation of American Scientists:

Technical terms defined

To look up any Representative in the House of Representatives ("The House") or any Senator in the Senate:
To find your particular Representative and two Senators:

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Feb06,  revised 1May06;  9Jun06;  26Sept06;  28Oct08; 29Apr11 CongressionalCtteeMemberListLinks