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Technology's Role in Domestic Spying
Nicholas Johnson

Talk of Iowa

WOI-AM 640

February 2, 2006

"Ben Stone from the ACLU of Iowa discusses the constitutional questions raised by the NSA's eavesdropping program, and public opinion of the tactic as a means of fightning terrorism."

Nicholas Johnson:  Thank you. I just wanted to say a word about the technologies involved here and how they are relevant to what it is we are talking about.

In the time of Nixon, you were talking about a couple alligator clips on an analog telephone twisted pair of wires.  And thatís something for which one can get a search warrant -- or can move without getting one. And the same thing would apply if you knew that there was an Al-Qaeda operative in this country and you wanted to get a search warrant -- or you wanted to evade the law and wiretap without a search warrant.

But, the NSA has access to a technology called Echelon which permits them to sweep up all telephone conversations, all email, all faxes, all cell phones, all mobile radios down to and including baby monitors, and sift that through super computers to search for what they are looking for.

Now if you want to do that, you canít do it with search warrants, because youíd need 300 million search warrants which just doesnít make a lot of sense.

So, whether they are saving everything that is going in and out of the country through the New York City switch, or whether they are using Echelon to monitor everything, it's just an entirely different order of magnitude in what we're dealing with [compared with Nixon's day].

Echelon has clearly been abused.  The Europeans charged that we took information about Airbus communications with Saudi Arabia, handed it over to Boeing, and it was able to undercut Airbus on that sale.  The Canadians and their participation in Echelon served [former British Prime Minister] Margaret Thatcherís desire to monitor a couple of her cabinet officers.  An NSA employee acknowledged listening in to [Senator] Strom Thurmondís phone conversations.

I think the abuses have occurred.

And now we have a technology that goes way beyond that [which Nixon had].

So I think we really need to address whether we want to be using that particular technology at all. Because I cannot, off-hand, think of any way you could get search warrants to do that.

You could get Congress to say, "Thatís okay. We donít mind the president spying on all Americans simultaneously,"

But I just think weíve got to recognize what we are talking about here in terms of technology.