The National Security Agency isn't quite sure that it's doing enough when it comes to tuning into people's digital lives. A profile of NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander in Wired magazine offers this frightening possibility: One day the organization may intercept online communications directly.
"In his telling, the threat is so mind-bogglingly huge that the nation has little option but to eventually put the entire civilian Internet under his protection, requiring tweets and emails to pass through his filters, and putting the kill switch under the government’s forefinger," wrote James Bamford for the magazine. It may seem like an exaggeration, but Bamford, author of about a half dozen books on the agency, should know better than anyone else.
The initial bombshell report from The Washington Post last week implied that the NSA could tap directly into the servers of nine prominent Internet companies, including Google, Facebook and Yahoo. Though the paper later backed away from that "direct access" claim, it seems monitoring real-time Internet activity is really on the agency's wish list.
“I am concerned that this is going to break a threshold where the private sector can no longer handle it and the government is going to have to step in,” Alexander recently said, according to Wired. Alexander argued to Congress on Wednesday that the NSA's collection of data and phone calls has thwarted "dozens" of terror attacks, a statement that has been challenged by members of the Senate intelligence committee Mark Udall and Ron Wyden.
This profile of Alexander comes at a time when the NSA is under intense scrutiny. A petition to Congress demanding that it end the NSA's data collection has garnered over 100,000 signatures so far and support from over 83 organizations.
Not everyone has such strong feelings about this data collection, though. "I don't worry about that, because they can listen to me all day -- I'm not doing anything wrong," Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama said on Wednesday. In a recent poll, Pew found that 56 percent of Americans think it is "acceptable for the NSA to get secret court orders to track the calls of millions of Americans in order to investigate terrorism." Forty-one percent said it's unacceptable.