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New questions on NSA surveillance

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Two days after President Obama signed into law a plan that limited the access of the National Security Agency to bulk phone records, a new report from the New York Times raised questions about NSA tracking of international hackers, and whether the NSA was scooping up large amounts of information on Americans while doing that cybersurveillance.

“Today’s report that the NSA has expanded its warrantless surveillance of Internet traffic underscores the critical importance of placing reasonable and commonsense limits on government surveillance in order to protect the privacy of Americans,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT).

The White House offered little detail about the 2012 decision by President Obama to allow for the expanded internet surveillance.

“What I can tell you is that the Director of National Intelligence has been clear that the United States is facing a cyber threat that’s increasing in frequency, scale, sophistication, and severity of impact,” said Press Secretary Josh Earnest.

The legal underpinnings for this activity is Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act; that has been almost as controversial for some as Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which was the subject of some of the reforms in the legislation approved earlier this week.

“Section 702 of FISA also contains provisions that have the led to serious breaches of constitutional liberty,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) argued, even before this latest NSA story came out.

“The NSA has used Section 702 to justify programs in which the NSA can siphon off large portions of Internet traffic directly from the Internet backbone,” the Electronic Freedom Foundation stated in May.

“These programs exploit the structure of the Internet, in which a significant amount of traffic from around the world flows through servers in the United States,” the EFF observed.

Like the provisions of the Patriot Act that expired earlier this week, Section 702 also operates with a sunset – the authorization for it runs out on December 31, 2017.

“Congress should have an open, transparent and honest debate about how to protect both our national security and our privacy,” Sen. Leahy said.

Feds scramble to deal with major hack attack

News of the NSA cyber surveillance effort came just hours before a major hacking attack was revealed – possibly from China – which targeted the personal information of federal workers.

In a statement issued last night, the FBI said it was working with other government agencies to investigate the hack.

“We take all potential threats to public and private sector systems seriously and will continue to investigate and hold accountable those who pose a threat in cyberspace,” the FBI statement said.


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