NSA Leaks: Are There Hundreds Of Millions Of Terrorist Telephones?

NSA Leaks: Are there really hundreds of millions of terrorist telephones? (spoiler alert: probably not.)

As the Washington Post reports, documents from Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks reveal that the NSA is collecting 5 billion telephone records daily and uses a suite of tools known as Co-Traveller to track the location and social relationships of “foreign targets.”

"IM IN UR PHONE, RECORDIN UR CALLZ." - Ceiling cat aka the NSA
“IM IN UR PHONE, RECORDIN UR CALLZ.” – Ceiling cat aka the NSA

The NSA is said to track “at least hundreds of millions of devices [emphasis mine]” and can identify a person’s travels, both present and past, anywhere on the planet.

Notable quote from the end of the article:

“The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.”

That is perhaps because this revelation, like so many about the NSA’S activities since the summer of 2013, are utterly embarrassing for the White House.

Hundreds of millions of foreign terrorists?

So can there be hundreds of millions of (foreign) terrorists? Of course not. On the face of it, that idea is patently absurd. Even if you shrink the number of individuals by assuming that each of the alleged terrorists uses several cell phones. Vastly greater than the number of actual terrorists could ever be are the following groups: radicals, dissenters, third party politicians, or—that is where the money is—(foreign) business leaders.

If, however, the definition of terrorist is widened so far that it becomes to mean “anyone who dares to disagree with anything the (U.S.) government does,” then that would be the antithesis to liberal democracy—it is a characteristic of a totalitarian concept of statehood.

The real threat to liberty is the national security state

The out-of-control national security establishment of the U.S., and by extension that of other states, such as the UK and Germany, and the narrative of the preventive national security state itself, are the real threat to civil liberties in the U.S. and abroad.

As serious a problem and as ghastly as terrorist attacks are, the scope of their detrimental effects on democracy could never dream to be as big as those caused by our own governments’ reactions to them.

Permanent war and liberty cannot coexist

We must recognize that the ugly head of authoritarianism is rising among us, using the phantom of terrorism to scare us into giving up our liberties. As a “War against Terrorism” can by definition never end, because terrorism is a tactic, not a specific enemy, the logical conclusion of such an endless state of emergency must be the permanent destruction of civil liberties.

Do we really want to live in such a world? I certainly do not. If there is no reform of the intelligence services to achieve a balance between the legitimate goal of preventing terrorism and the rights of the individual not to be put under surveillance without reasonable suspicion, like in East Germany during the GDR, then we all lose our freedom.

Read more:

Snowden documents show NSA gathering 5bn cell phone records daily.” (Paul Lewis, Guardian, 2013/12/05)

auf deutsch:

[Podcast] Logbuch:Netzpolitik, Folge 88: “Schamoffensive.” (10.12.2013) – Linus Neumann und Tim Pritlove beschäftigen sich unter anderem mit der Ausspähung von Mobiltelefonen durch die NSA.