Security

NSA able to query U.S. citizens’ names in its FISA database

Above: NSA chief General Keith Alexander at Black Hat 2013

Image Credit: Meghan Kelly/VentureBeat

The National Security Agency can search for U.S. citizens’ names and other information under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, according a document Edward Snowden leaked to The Guardian.

Snowden, a former NSA contractor, has been feeding information about U.S. government surveillance programs to The Guardian since June. During this time, NSA officials continue to defend their “minimization tactics,” or the effort to reduce the amount of American citizen information collected as a result of surveilling foreign targets. This includes the discarding of any inconsequential information about U.S. persons. But, it seems some U.S. citizens’ names are kept in the NSA’s FISA business records, which can be queried later.

“While the FAA 702 minimization procedures approved on 3 October 2011 now allow for use of certain United States person names and identifiers as query terms when reviewing collected FAA 702 data, analysts may NOT/NOT [not, repeat not] implement any USP [United States person] queries until an effective oversight process has been developed by NSA and agreed to by DOJ/ODNI,” reads the document.

At the Black Hat security conference in July, NSA chief General Keith Alexander explained that there are only 35 people in the NSA who can run queries on its system. These people can all be audited and there is a larger oversight process in place involving all three branches of the government.

Earlier today, President Obama assured the public that if they were able to see all of the guts of the United States’ government surveillance programs, they too would have faith that the their data is taken care of lawfully.

“I am comfortable that if the American people examined exactly what is taking place … that they’d say you know what these folks are following the law,” he said during a press conference.

He explained that these kinds of leaks spike fear in the U.S. public who are concerned of what the NSA might do with their information. These types of queries are not performed under a warrant, though General Alexander explained that anyone querying the system must provide a reason why they’re making that specific search.

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