The documents released by whistleblower Edward Snowden showing the scope of the NSA's spy programs are still making waves. The newest scandal is about some prominent Americans who might have been spied on because of their race or religion.
The document talks about a program called FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) that allows the government to secretly monitor people if it can prove to a judge that the person is participating in terrorism. Most of the people being monitored were not U.S. citizens.
However, some email accounts on the list did belong to Americans, including a political candidate and Navy veteran, civil-rights activists, academics and lawyers. All of the men come from a Muslim background, but have never appeared to support violence or terrorism.
One of the men, Faisal Gill, served under President George W. Bush and had secret security clearance. He is also a Navy veteran and former candidate for the Virginia House of Delegates.
This isn't the first time the FBI has been accused of racial or religious profiling of Muslims.
According to FBI training materials uncovered by Wired in 2011, the bureau taught agents to treat “mainstream” Muslims as supporters of terrorism, to view charitable donations by Muslims as “a funding mechanism for combat,” and to view Islam itself as a “Death Star” that must be destroyed if terrorism is to be contained.
In total, 202 people on the monitoring list are labeled as "U.S. persons."
Under current law, the NSA may directly target a “U.S. person” (an American citizen or legal permanent resident) for electronic surveillance only with a warrant approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
But the revelation that made me really angry was this racist epithet from a leaked internal memo. It uses a slur as a placeholder for the name of the real target:
It's difficult to know how the court decides if someone is a threat, because it's secret. But, the success rate is very high. The court has approved over 35,000 surveillance requests in 35 years and denied 12.
This is another reminder that email and other online communications aren't completely secure from monitoring. And, you won't necessarily receive notice from the government if it decides to look into your online activity.
Want to send more secure messages? I have plenty of programs and apps on my site.