- National Security Agency insists the site will operate according to laws that limit spying on U.S. citizens
- But civil liberties campaigners warn that the government is seeking to expand these powers
- The U.S. government operated a secret warrantless wiretapping programme between 2001 and 2005
PUBLISHED: 08:51 EST, 16 April 2013 | UPDATED: 10:24 EST, 16 April 2013
The U.S. National Security Agency has been accused of building a $1.2billion data centre in the Utah desert to illegally monitor the emails of American citizens.
The secretive agency, which serves the U.S. military and intelligence communities, insisted the state-of-the-art facility, code-named Bumblehive, would be used to support U.S. cybersecurity in accordance with U.S. laws that limit spying on Americans.
But campaigners have warned that a new law currently going through Congress will greatly expand these powers, and the Bumblehive site could be used for unprecedented mass surveillance.
Surveillance: The site plan for the NSA’s Utah data center, code-named Bumblehive, which has been accused of being built to spy on American citizens
Fox News aired a television report about the 1million-sq/ft facility on Friday in which former NSA employees raised concerns that the facility would be used to monitor the emails of U.S. citizens.
‘Many unfounded allegations have been made about the planned activities of the Utah Data Center,’ the NSA said in a statement.
It added that ‘one of the biggest misconceptions about NSA is that we are unlawfully listening in on, or reading emails of, U.S. citizens. This is simply not the case.’
The NSA said it remained ‘unwavering’ in its respect for U.S. laws and American citizens’ civil liberties, and noted that it was subject to broad oversight by all three branches of government.
All wiretapping of U.S. citizens by the NSA requires a warrant from a three-judge court set up under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act passed in 1978.
Former President George W. Bush issued an executive order shortly after the September 11, 2001, attacks in New York that authorised the NSA to monitor certain phone calls without obtaining a warrant.
The warrantless wiretapping programme remained a secret until 2005, when a whistleblower went to the press to reveal the extent of the surveillance.
Under construction: An aerial view shows the extent of construction at the Bumblehive site, which the NSA insists will not be used for the unlawful survellance of American citizens
Although the NSA has strenuously denied acting beyond its surveillance powers groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have warned that a bill currently passing through Congress could dramatically increase the amount of personal data that government agencies have legal access to.
The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) has just been inspected by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
In a written statement addressed to congressmen, the ACLU said: ‘CISPA creates an exception to all privacy laws to permit companies to share our information with each other and with the government in the name of cybersecurity.
‘Although a carefully-crafted information sharing program that strictly limits the information to be shared and includes robust privacy safeguards could be an effective approach to cybersecurity, CISPA lacks such protections for individual rights.
‘CISPA’s information sharing regime allows the transfer of vast amounts of data, including sensitive information like internet records or the content of emails, to any agency in the government including military and intelligence agencies like the National Security Agency or the Department of Defense Cyber Command.’
Preparing for the future? Campaigners in the U.S. have warned over a new law, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, which if passed could give the government more legal rights to access citizens’ data
The NSA issued a news release about construction of the massive, Utah data centre in January 2011, identifying it as the largest Pentagon facility construction project in the country.
It said the project would result in 5,000 to 10,000 new jobs during the construction phase, with 100 to 200 permanent employees to work there once it was completed.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is handling the construction of the facility.
NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines said the centre was due to be completed in September.
The NSA is the executive agent for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and will be the lead agency at the facility, but the centre will also help other agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, in protecting national security networks, according to a NSA news release.
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