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Why the NSA's snooping on BJP is legal according to US laws

Wednesday, 2 July 2014 - 9:17pm IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna webdesk

After reports emerged of the United States of America's National Security Agency (NSA) spying on Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 2010, India has now summoned a senior US diplomat to seek an explanation. 

India has reacted strongly to the reports, saying that it was "totally unacceptable" that the privacy of an Indian organisation or Indian individual was transgressed upon. "We expect a response to be provided to us, and if these are true, an assurance that this will not happen in the future," a senior government official said.

The news first came out when new classified documents in the Washington Post revealed that the NSA had been snooping on 193 organisations and countries throughout the world, with India's BJP among them. Whistleblower Edward Snowden has revealed that the US gave permissions to spy on multiple political parties which included the BJP, the Pakistan People's Party and Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood.

The BJP see this as a gross violation of India's privacy and sovereignty as a democratic nation. But as per the NSA mandates, it had complete authority to spy on BJP as it was approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, although one cannot be sure if the spying was actually carried out. 

The first time the bipartisan Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board dissected a National Security Agency surveillance program, it found fundamental flaws, arguing in a January report that the NSA's collection of domestic calling records "lacked a viable legal foundation" and should be shut down. Read More. However the five-member board appointed by President Barack Obama, released a report on Tuesday night, related to the latest controversies brought on by the espionage organisation. The committee this time, largely endorsed various surveillance programs undertaken by the NSA. This added to the already prevalent worldwide apprehension about the NSA brought on by former systems administrator Edward Snowden. They did however make one thing clear to the agency. They urged the NSA to implement new intelligence agency safeguards, primarily to safeguard against internal and external infiltration and misuse.

-But whether or not it was legal, the real question is whether it is right-

The oversight board voted on Wednesday, and found that the NSA's collection of Internet data within the United States passes constitutional muster and employs "reasonable" safeguards designed to protect the rights of Americans. The board, whose members were appointed by President Barack Obama, largely endorsed a set of NSA surveillance programs that have provoked worldwide controversy since Snowden disclosed them. However, the board's report said some aspects of the programs raise privacy concerns meriting new internal intelligence agency safeguards.

Under a provision of the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act known as Section 702, the NSA uses various methods like court orders and fiber optic taps to target information on foreigners living abroad including all correspondence via electronic mail, web chats, text and basically any kind of electronic communications. Now, this is supposed to be only for those communications that transverse through US channels, but the fact of the matter, indicated by these reports, is that the buck does not in fact stop there. Section 702, was added to the act in 2008, and the the coveted PRISM program allows the NSA to collect foreign intelligence from social media platforms like Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple and any other major America internet company. While a majority of US congressmen and intelligence officials agree that Section 702 has been pivotal in the foiling of terrorist plots and achieving other security goals, is giving free reign to one intelligence agency smart in the long run?

The board released a statement claiming that the agency has helped the government identify previously unknown individuals who are involved in international terrorism, and it has played a key role in discovering and disrupting specific terrorist plots aimed at the United States as well as other countries.

Many have raised questions about the surveillance organisation, and have condemned its methods, but as per US mandate, it is completely legal. Regarding the recent information that was brought to light about other countries being surveilled as well, India has sought an assurance from the US that it will not happen again. However, so far officials have not disclosed which US diplomat was summoned by the External Affairs Ministry. It should be noted that India had also raised these issues with the US administration in Washington and the Embassy issues before. Most recently in November last year, when reports emerged that the NSA had spied upon individuals and entities. However they are still "awaiting a response from America on this".

Reacting to reports that America's National Security Agency (NSA) was allowed by a US court to spy on six political parties, including the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), BJP IT Cell Head Arvind Gupta said it is a matter of great concern, and added that the party will take up this issue with the appropriate authority. "If this report is true, it is a matter of great concern. It is matter of concern because it deals with the interfering of a democratic process of a sovereign nation. At the BJP, we are quite concerned about it," said Gupta.

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