On Thursday, The Guardian reported that the NSA had given legitimacy to all the conspiracy theorists who cover up the webcams on their laptops with the reveal of Optic Nerve. The program, carried out by both the NSA and Britain’s GCHQ, collected and stored images from the webcams of innocent users. If that wasn’t enough, the report also revealed that the NSA was looking into intercepting video feeds from Xbox 360 Kinect users.
As is expected by now, a number of senators are very unhappy with this report.
Senators Ron Wyden, Mark Udall and Martin Heinrich issued a joint statement today condemning Optic Nerve. The three say the program shows “a breathtaking lack of respect for the privacy and civil liberties of law-abiding Americans.”
Once again, the argument here is not that surveillance systems shouldn’t exist. They should, and are helpful when targeted directly at wrongdoers. The senators feel, however, that programs like Optic Nerve largely overstep the boundaries that should be in place.
Here’s the rest of their statement:
In recent decades, largely isolated national communications systems have been replaced by a single, globally interconnected communications network. While this has had incredibly positive benefits, it has also dramatically increased the likelihood of innocent Americans being swept up in intelligence collection nominally aimed at foreigners. It is becoming clearer and clearer that more needs to be done to ensure that “foreign” intelligence collection does not intrude unnecessarily on the rights of law-abiding people or needlessly undermine the competitiveness of America’s leading industries.
We commend Chairman Feinstein for her decision to conduct a comprehensive review of ongoing surveillance programs, and we plan to thoroughly investigate these most recent reports as that review goes forward. Any involvement of US agencies in the alleged activities reported today will need to be closely scrutinized.”
Despite their commendation, the senators should be wary of any review coming from Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein. She’s proven time and time again that she’s squarely on the side of expanded surveillance and has defended the NSA at every turn. Even her proposed bill would do nothing to stop the NSA’s surveillance, but rather codify it in law while promising just a little more transparency in return.
So, what’s next for Wyden and company? The best thing they can be doing is promoting Sen. Patrick Leahy’s USA Freedom Act. The bill would put a stop to the NSA’s widespread collection of Americans’ phone records, reform the FISA court and fix other areas of the NSA’s surveillance programs. It was referred to committee back in October of last year, but it’s made no progress since then. Hopefully this will spur on senators to renew the fight for its passage.
Image via Senator Ron Wyden/Facebook