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…the NSA’s goal is to “Collect It All,” “Process It All,” “Exploit It All,” “Partner It All,” “Sniff It All,” and “Know It All.”


Twenty years ago, if the government wanted to know your most intimate secrets, it could seek to follow you around the clock.

But that is very expensive and difficult, and could be deployed only against very high-priority suspects. The government could search your home, but only if it first obtained a judicial warrant based on specific probable cause. It could interrogate you, but only if it had probable cause to arrest, and even then, you could assert your right to remain silent.

Today, the government can simply go to the various communications service providers you use and obtain from them detailed information on your every phone call, web search, e-mail, online chat, or credit card purchase, as well as your physical location whenever you are carrying your cell phone. Under current law, you have no constitutional right to object to the government obtaining the information from the companies that serve you. The government needs no probable cause or warrant to get it.

The digital age also makes possible dragnet surveillance of whole communities. 20 years ago, no government could monitor all phone calls from a single country or secretly collect the personal address books of millions of individuals. The computers were not fast enough, the hard drives not big enough, the algorithms not sophisticated enough, the world not linked enough. Today, mass collection and analysis are conducted every day by Google, Yahoo, British Telecom and many websites. And as the NSA and the GCHQ have shown, government agencies can obtain that information from the private sector virtually at will.

In the words of an NSA PowerPoint slide disclosed by Snowden, the NSA’s goal is to “Collect It All,” “Process It All,” “Exploit It All,” “Partner It All,” “Sniff It All,” and “Know It All.”

— From Must Counterterrorism Cancel Democracy? by David Cole in The New York Review of Books, Dec. 2014.

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