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A handy guide to the hidden meaning behind all those NSA and government statements

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By Simon Davies

It’s becoming harder and harder to disentangle fact from fiction in the statements of national governments and their spy agencies. So here is the Privacy Surgeon’s handy guide to interpreting what they really meant to say.

What we did would have been lawful if the other party were in office. 

We acted according to law  We acted according to the intent of the law.

We acted strictly according to law  We tested the limits of the law.

What we did was envisaged by law  What we did would have been lawful if the other party were in office.

We scrupulously observed legal principles  We acted outside the law.

We acted in accordance with international agreements  We trampled over everyone else’s law.

National security is part of the national critical infrastructure  National security is hard-wired into the national critical infrastructure

Everything we have done was strictly in the public interest  We acted unlawfully.

The data we looked at was trivial  We scooped up all the metadata in sight.

Privacy is an important consideration for the privacy of national security


We do not have a backdoor into the systems of major companies  It’s more like a dog flap.

We have saved countless lives through national security interception We don’t know who they are.

Privacy is an important consideration in national security  Privacy is an important consideration for the privacy of national security

We are subject to rigorous checks  We internally sign-off everything we do.

We give unsupported evidence in camera and then we put on a congressional PR display every six months. 

We are directly accountable to the Congress/Parliament  We give unsupported evidence in camera and then we put on a congressional PR display every six months.

The courts approve everything we do  We fill out all the required check-boxes and the court rubber-stamps them.

The allegations being made are factually incorrect  We changed the names of the programs as soon as they were discovered

The source of the allegations is untrusted  The source of the allegations was found to be correct.

The allegations are nothing more than conspiracy theory  The allegations involve collusion between more than two officials.

We respect the laws of other countries We’ve received a legal briefing on the laws of other countries.

My response was erroneous I lied.

My response was clearly erroneous I lied – and you were all too stupid to notice it at the time.

We mistakenly gave misleading information  We got caught out.