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Greenwald: NSA Creates Blackmail Risk for Women Who Get Abortions

Image: Greenwald: NSA Creates Blackmail Risk for Women Who Get Abortions

By William Chedsey   |   Friday, 20 Dec 2013 01:58 PM

Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who introduced the world to National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden and his classified revelations, testified to the European Union's parliament that NSA metadata collection is ideally suited for identifying women who've had abortions and using that information against them.

Collecting metadata "is the supreme priority of the agency precisely because it enables the NSA to invade people's privacy more effectively than the interception of content," Greenwald said in his remote video testimony Wednesday to a committee of parliament conducting an inquiry on electronic mass surveillance of EU citizens.

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Greenwald said he finds that "sometimes it's difficult to understand that in the abstract, but it's easy to understand it when concrete examples are used."

Imagine, he said, "a woman who decides that she wants to get an abortion. If you're listening in on her phone call, what you will hear is her calling a clinic. The clinic will answer with a generic-sounding name like 'East Side Clinic' or something like that.

"You will hear the woman who you decided to target for surveillance ask for an appointment Tuesday at two o'clock … and you'll have no idea why she called, or even what kind of clinic she called, or what the purpose was."

By contrast, Greenwald testified, "if you're collecting her metadata, you will see the phone number that she called. You will then be able to identify it as an abortion clinic. You will know how many times she called that clinic. And you will have exactly the information you wouldn't get if you were simply listening to her phone call."

Greenwald said that it would be "the same with somebody who calls a suicide hotline, or a drug addiction clinic, or somebody who is speaking with someone who is not their spouse late at night, or any number of other types of intimate activities that human beings engage in that you probably wouldn't be able to apprehend if you're reading their e-mails or listening to their telephone calls, but that you will instantly be able to understand by collecting their metadata."

Someone with HIV who "calls a doctor specializing in HIV once every three months, as HIV patients often do; if you're listening to their phone calls you'll have no idea what kind of doctor they're calling, but if you're collecting their metadata you'll know everything about their medical condition."

The political angle to Greenwald's testimony likely played well to the left-leaning European parliament's Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE).

Those on the left in both America and Europe who revile national security overreach by the U.S. government often strongly support the wide availability of legal abortion, gay rights, and oppose stigmas against drug use and marital infidelity.

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Greenwald found himself on the receiving end from some of his friends on the left for his kind words about Ron Paul, an opponent of abortion.

"I find Glenn Greenwald's defense of Ron Paul's anti-abortion record deeply bizarre," Ezra Klein complained in the American Prospect, accusing Greenwald of failing to respond "to concerns that, in a Ron Paul world, tens of millions of women will be forced to use their bodies to bear children against their will."

Greenwald responded by saying, "Not a word of what I wrote or have ever written had anything to do with 'defending' Paul's position on abortion, nor did I state or imply that abortion rights were unimportant."

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