This week we saw stories about Obama's Grand Bargain proposal and Republicans pressing the new FBI director on Benghazi, but the biggest story in politics at the moment is about new NSA program information.
Yesterday, the Guardian broke a new story on documents provided by Snowden that explain an NSA Internet data collection program. On the same day, there was a Senate Judiciary hearing on the NSA and the Obama administration declassified some NSA surveillance documents.
Amid dramatic headlines and various groups expressing either outrage or support, journalists are trying to make sense of all the new information coming to light.
Snippets from the Left
Senate Panel Presses N.S.A. on Phone Logs, New York Times
"A series of slides describing XKeyscore, dated 2008, make it clear that the security agency system is collecting a huge amount of data on Internet activity around the globe, from chats on social networks to browsing of Web sites and searches on Google Maps. The volume of data is so vast that most of it is stored for only three days, although metadata — information showing logins and server activity, but not content — is stored for a month.
...The agency said its surveillance of the Internet was part of its “lawful foreign signals intelligence collection” and not “arbitrary and unconstrained.” ...“The program does not target American citizens.”
The XKeyscore presentation claimed the program had generated intelligence that resulted in the capture of more than 300 terrorists. By contrast, the documents released by the government about the domestic phone log program were more abstract."
Snippets from the Right
"The agency acknowledged the existence of the program -- called XKeyscore -- but said access is limited and suggested it was mainly aimed at foreign intelligence targets.
The Guardian article described it differently. According to the piece, the XKeyscore program... allows analysts without prior authorization to dig around the database by filling out an on-screen form giving a basic justification.
...Meanwhile, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence declassified a set of documents on Wednesday that begin to shed light on the authorization and rules behind the agency's phone and Internet record collection.
The documents stress that these programs allow the government to collect basic information about phone calls and email communications, but not the content of those messages. ...while describing the programs as vital to the "early warning system" for detecting terror plots."
Snippets from the Center
Documents Shed New Light on NSA Data Gathering, Wall Street Journal
"The court order declassified and released Wednesday largely outlines previously known contours of the phone-data program, but one passage suggests the access to phone records is broader than officials have described. The section describes a computer-run sifting program that scans phone records with approved selection terms and then dumps that information into a "corporate store.'"
...it "may then be searched by appropriately and adequately trained personnel for valid foreign intelligence purposes, without the requirement that those searches use only'' approved selection terms.
Patrick Toomey, a lawyer at the American Civil Liberties Union, said the language suggests "the government's ability to use the data acquired through the phone tracking program is not nearly as limited as it has suggested. Once you retain and store everything for unlimited search purposes, you eliminated any protections that you had at the outset."