The job of the United States’ intelligence agencies is, at its simplest, to know everything about any potential threat to or opponent of the country. It is to know what the premier of China said to his assistant right before dinner and to know where two Islamic State terrorists are headed in their car. It’s a fundamentally impossible task, requiring that the agencies gather enough information at least to know what information they need to collect.
In 2013, then-National Security Agency head Keith Alexander was advocating on Capitol Hill for an expansion of what his agency was allowed to do in order to collect that information. In the wake of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, his agency and its partners were given new authority by Congress and an affirmative nod from the White House to test that authority’s boundaries. They collected metadata on phone calls in bulk and, for a few years until 2011, information about e-mail and Internet communications. But as the New York Times reported, the NSA wanted more.
And then Edward Snowden happened. The momentum moved in the other direction. It suddenly became politically viable to question the extent of the government’s data collection (at least on Americans). The data released by Snowden brought what was happening to the public light — and, perhaps more importantly, proved that those hoping to sue the government over the data collection had standing to bring those suits.
Leave a Reply