Most people know that the NSA spies on Americans thanks to the revelations by Edward Snowden and other whistleblowers. But the NSA is just the tip of the surveillance iceberg. State, local and federal agencies have joined together the create a massive surveillance-state using a vast array of intrusive technology.

Federal intelligence agencies, including the NSA, CIA and DEA, collect data without a warrant, analyze it to build profiles on its targets and encourages state and local law enforcement to violate our fundamental right to privacy.

Documents obtained by Reuters in 2013 discussed NSA data sharing with state and local law enforcement. The NSA, passes information through the DEA’s Special Operations Division and it’s not about national security as we are told. They are being used domestically for criminal investigations. In 2013, these are the Snowden leaks, The Washington Post reported the NSA is gathering 5 billion records a day on the locations of cellphones worldwide. This includes data on tens of millions of Americans each year- all without a warrant. In 2018, the Statistical Transparency Report Regarding Use of National Security Authorities showed that the government intercepted metadata from more than 500 million Americans in 2017; a 300 percent increase from 2016.

The three main authorities for surveillance are Section 215 PATRIOT, Section 702 FISA, and Executive Order 12333. Section 215 was passed after 9/11 and allows the NSA to gather “any tangible thing” from third parties relevant to foreign intelligence. This includes bulk data on Americans as well: phone calls, data and texts. Police were granted new, sweeping surveillance powers to “fight terrorism” following 09/11 events. Whatever the cause of the events, the result is a suspect society where you have to prove your innocence and the monitoring of everything we do in real-time.

Section 702 FISA was passed in 2008 to legalize GW Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program and deals with internet traffic data. EO12333 was issued in 1981 and serves as the primary authority for spying. It governs electronic surveillance that the NSA conducts overseas and allows bulk collection of Americans metadata. Keep in mind this is only what we know publically. There are likely many other spying tools we do not know about. For example, automatic license plate readers were in place years before it was public knowledge and in the case of Section 702 FISA that law legalized an already active wiretapping program.

A note on 215: in 2013, Edward Snowden revealed that the NSA was using this authority to collect American’s phone records in bulk. In 2015, the Freedom Act replaced 215 so that the NSA can gather phone data on suspected terrorists. It’s not just phone calls that are being gathered. Section 702 allows the FBI and other agencies to use bulk data collected during surveillance of foreign targets in domestic cases. Section 702, under downstream surveillance U.S. intelligence agencies go to tech companies like google and force the companies to turn over data on identified selectors, which are very broad. In upstream surveillance, the NSA partners such as ATT tap into fiber optic cables and copy the internet traffic data.


The NSA gets most of the attention when it comes to government spying, but state and local agencies are the backbone of the U.S. surveillance state. They collect reams of data using spy-gear funded by the federal government and then share this information across the country. Reams of data ends up in federal databases thanks to the efforts of state and local police.

The feds set up and facilitate this massive surveillance network.

Through fusion centers, state and local law enforcement agencies act as information recipients from federal departments under the Information Sharing Environment (ISE). These include the Director of National Intelligence, which covers 17 other federal agencies, including NSA. In other words, this serves as a channel for the sharing of warrantless surveillance. This information is shared between federal, state and local law enforcement and includes social network spying and CCTV cameras. The Department of Homeland Security funds 79 fusion centers across the U.S. They were created to combat terrorism, but are being used for domestic spying with no limits or transparency whatsoever. Despite these issues, congress reauthorized FISA 702 for another six years. The lesson? We should not count on Congress to limit federal spying.

Fusion centers are partnerships between public and private entities, including local, state and federal law enforcement. They “anticipate, prevent and monitor criminal activity and other hazards, then distribute their findings.” These centers research threats to government and public order, terrorism of all kinds and any international incidents with potential local impact. These centers were largely created in the years prior to 9/11. In 2012, a white paper was submitted to the House of Representatives. “Homeland Security and Intelligence: Next Steps in Evolving the Mission,” written by Michael Chertoff, detailed the DHS evolving mission away from fighting terrorism toward administering a domestic intelligence agency that would integrate local and state law enforcement into one unit. This paper discussed shifting the focus away from “foreign terrorism” to “specific homeward areas.” The paper also talks about building a DHS/police hybrid agency that can monitor Americans in any town and prevent threats. The goal of the fusion center is to detect and prevent criminal and terrorist activity. These centers assist law enforcement in the prevention and response to crime and terrorism.


Automatic license plate readers establish patterns of behavior for profiling. By tracking where you visit, how often and with whom law enforcement can learn a lot about you. ALPR’s track your movements in real-time, using high-speed cameras with character recognition technologies capable of quickly scanning license plates. They can be set up on check your speed devices, in parking lots and on police cruisers. We know that data gathered by a local sheriff ends up in national databases accessible by state, local and federal law enforcement. The information is also shared downstream from the federal to the state and local levels. For example, the Omaha police department knows where I am driving thanks to license plate readers. Accurate profiles are generated and stored for law enforcement to use based on this technology. In the case of license plate readers, this was happening in secret years before the public discovered it. The Electronic Frontier Foundation released records from 200 agencies amounting to 2.5 billion license plate scans between 2016-17. 99.5% of the plates scanned had no suspicion of a crime but the data was being gathered. These agencies shared this with 160-800 other agencies.


These devices simulate cell phone towers, connecting to devices within range of a cell tower and intercepting the communications from it before sending it out to its recipient. Privacy rights advocates say that these can never be used in line with the 4th Amendment because the data from all devices in range are collected instead of targeted collection of single users. This gives law enforcement the perfect cover to sweep up our communications and track our location –without our knowledge and with no limits. The federal government funds the majority of surveillance programs, and stingrays are no exception. These technologies are funded federally and require the agencies using them to sign non-disclosure agreements. As the Baltimore Sun reported in 2015, a Baltimore detective refused to answer questions on the stand during a trial citing a non-disclosure agreement. This means that rather than reveal the methods of how intelligence was being gathered, prosecutors instructed the detective to drop the case. If they have nothing to fear, what do they have to hide? That is what we are told


Through parallel construction, police build cases based on illegally obtained, warrantless data collected by the NSA and other federal agencies. The feds share information gathered without a warrant and direct the police to make arrests. Investigators build the case along with normal police techniques, getting warrants for information they already have. This creates the appearance of a legitimate case and helps keep secret surveillance programs hidden. State and local law enforcement agencies regularly provide surveillance data to the federal government through the Information Sharing Environment (ISE) and fusion centers. They gather data from ALPR’s, stingrays, drones and facial recognition software. Through the ISE, the feds share and tap into vast amounts of information gathered at the state and local level. This allows for the storing, tracking and monitoring of many Americans. The feds gather phone calls, emails, web history and texts on millions of Americans every day. Did I mention that this happens without a warrant, probable cause and public knowledge.

Chris Mishevski
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