The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, (FISA,) is a law that was enacted during the cold war era, (1978) to allow the NSA to spy on espionage suspects that communicated through a US based communications hub without a warrant. At the time it seemed like a great idea, and plenty of privacy protections were put in for American citizens. In the end though, concerned Congressmen inserted a sunset clause that makes the law have to come up for review, and amendments if necessary, periodically…until this time it has been every four years.
The Darwinian Theory
According to Darwin, it isn’t the strongest or smartest species that survive the best…it’s the most adaptable. And Congress, combined with the urgings of the NSA, has evolved FISA (almost) into a living, breathing, data collecting and eating entity. When two US Senators queried the NSA about how many Americans were being monitored, and how much data was being collected, the answer was simply that the numbers were , “beyond (their) capacity.” Another disconcerting thing is that once the data is collected and stored, (if it isn’t used for further examination,) the NSA reserves the right to use it in whatever manner they find appropriate…though they promise to hold individual privacy in the highest regard.
Who, What, How Much
With 9/11, the evolution of FISA slipped into overdrive. Today, virtually every communication taking place through a US based communication hub is recorded, scanned for certain keywords, and if found to be safe, saved in a database. This database has been called on in the past, for prosecutorial purposes other than foreign intelligence, along with many other nefarious purposes. And staying true to their pledge of respect, allowing examination of the database could constitute an invasion of privacy. (Part of their reasoning for non-disclosure to the Senate committee, also.)
Who Gets Privacy Now
With all the other privacy invasive laws, Executive Orders, and Corporate interest, into what the American public is up to, only the people using cloaking software like TOR, proxies, and personal VPNs, have any amount of privacy. And while usage of this kind of software implies illegal activities, the cost of decrypting and untangling the communications is high. Ergo, the unraveling is reserved mainly for the higher priority investigations…drug cartel investigations, suspected terrorist activities, and such. In cases that the communiqué isn’t decrypted and used by an agency, it is stored in encrypted form though, for possible usage later…like all the non-encrypted recordings.