It's easy to deceive
It's easy to tease
But hard to get release
As news about the extent of the US surveillance state slowly (and in the case of many mainstream media outlets reluctantly) unfolds, American citizens are getting a lesson about unmasking and leaking. As these pages have discussed, the NSA collects all digital communications made in the US and by US citizens, purportedly for purposes of national security.
If government officials can provide justification for doing so, then they can obtain transcripts of conversations collected by the NSA. However, the identity of US citizens remains hidden, or 'masked,' to protect their rights. A snippet of a conversation might look look like this:
Foreign Ambassador: Hello. How are you doing?
Citizen1: I am fine.
If government officials wish to "unmask" Citizen1, then they must submit rationale as to why it is vital that this person's identity must be revealed from a national security standpoint. If that request is granted, only government officials with top secret clearance are permitted to review unmasked transcripts, and under no circumstances are the names of people who have been unmasked to be shared, or 'leaked,' with outsiders. Doing so constitutes a felony.
The bulk of conversations collected by NSA are between everyday citizens (a.k.a. 'incidental' information collection). For example:
Citizen1: Hello. How are you doing?
Citizen2: I am fine.
Unless government officials can submit substantial rationale on grounds of national security, then they should have difficulty merely accessing the above transcript. And, if they cannot justify doing so for national security purposes, government officials are under no circumstances permitted to unmask the identities of Citizen 1 and/or Citizen2. Doing so constitutes a felony.
Subsequently leaking those unmasked names obviously constitutes a felony as well.