Privacy SOS

WSJ protip: don’t get sexually involved with NSA analysts or intelligence contractors

A new Wall Street Journal story confirms that NSA employees have used their unchecked access to troves of personal communications to spy on their loved ones and people they are sexually interested in.

WSJ's Siobhan Gorman reports:

The practice isn’t frequent — one official estimated a handful of cases in the last decade — but it’s common enough to garner its own spycraft label: LOVEINT.

Spy agencies often refer to their various types of intelligence collection with the suffix of “INT,” such as “SIGINT” for collecting signals intelligence, or communications; and “HUMINT” for human intelligence, or spying.
 
The “LOVEINT” examples constitute most episodes of willful misconduct by NSA employees, officials said.
Let me get this straight (no pun intended): NSA analysts hardly ever use their vast powers to invade the privacy of their romantic interests, but the agency nonetheless has a name for romance-spying? That doesn't make sense.
 
Common or not, the name they came up with for the practice couldn't be creepier. Sounds like the good patriots at the NSA are confused about what constitutes love — or else they've added the word to their absurdist internal dictionary, where 'up' is 'down' and 'collect' is 'process'.
 
As far as I'm concerned, using secretive and unconstitutional spy powers to monitor the private communications of someone you have a crush on doesn't mean you love them. It means you are a creep.
 
As this story and countless others like it remind us, information collected will inevitably be abused. The only way we can ensure our private communications won't be misused — either to spy on us because we are anti-war activists or because some NSA or Booz Allen analyst thinks we are cute — is to restrict the spies from ever collecting them, unless it has a damn good reason and shows that reason to a traditional court.
 
Disturbingly, even though NSA analysts were found to have 'willfully' violated people's rights by spying on them for so-called 'romantic' purposes, these violations did not break the law.
NSA said in a statement Friday that there have been “very rare” instances of willful violations of any kind in the past decade, and none have violated key surveillance laws. “NSA has zero tolerance for willful violations of the agency’s authorities” and responds “as appropriate.”
Perhaps instead of asking what the surveillance laws on the books today allow spy agencies and contractors to do, we should be asking: What can't they do? It is likely a much shorter list. If snooping on love interests doesn't violate the statutes governing agency surveillance programs, the laws are worse than we could have ever imagined.
 
It's well past time to take away the NSA's (and FBI's) powers to warrantlessly monitor our communications, in bulk and in secret. Take action now if you agree.

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.