What the NSA will tell you about you

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX -- When Edward Snowden exploded onto the scene, the National Security Agency went under the microscope.  Even this week, there were ripples as a judge deemed two programs run by the agency unconstitutional, prompting new calls for action in Washington.

The NSA is reportedly collecting data from millions of us -- our phone, email and internet data.

I figured they have to have something on me.
The NSA says the metadata program is the best way to find terrorists in a sea of information.
"If we find something, we give that to the FBI," NSA Director General Keith Alexander said.  "We don't know who it is.  We don't know the content of the communications."
But being a curious bunch in the newsroom, I wondered, have they tracked me?
I went to the NSA Web site, found instructions and typed a simple Freedom of Information Act request with my name, email address and phone numbers for the last 12 years.
I then faxed it off to the NSA.  Much to my surprise, a letter arrived in less than two weeks.
One line on the front page said, "You may be aware that one of the NSA/CSS missions is to collect, process and disseminate communications or signals intelligence information NSA is authorized to engage in these activities in order to prevent and protect against terrorist attacks."
Nothing new here. We've heard this all before at congressional hearings.  Let's get to the heart of the matter on the second page where it said, "Therefore, your request is denied because the fact of the existence or non-existence of responsive records is a currently and properly classified matter."
Denied? How can this be? I make lots of phone calls.  I'm sure I searched "Osama bin Laden" at least once.
Bob Clinton, a law professor at Arizona State University's Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, explained.
"Disclosing that would disclose that they are tracking certain kinds of things, which is a method of signals intelligence intercept, which itself is classified.," he said.
So, the NSA's methods are just as classified as the information itself. That may not change, but  Clinton feels more oversight of the agency is coming.
"We have essentially become the police state we always criticized the former East Germany of being," he said.
The NSA's defense against statements like that continues to be, "The United States and its allies are under constant threat and sweeping up massive amounts of data is the best way at the moment to find those threats."
A judge disagreed this week.
The Obama Administration is now considering 40 different recommendations to fix the NSA surveillance program submitted by an independent panel.
Those recommendations include keeping the collection of so-called telephone metadata in place, but with tighter constraints and greater transparency.