If the Government Spied on You, How Would You Know?

How would you know if the federal government had been electronically spying on you? Short answer: You probably wouldn’t.

Today, the ACLU sued the Justice Department to find out more about the circumstances under which the government thinks it can spy on Americans without telling them. This challenge seeks important information about a spying statute whose renewal is currently up for debate in Congress.

The answer to the question above should be simple: When the government invades your privacy — whether by searching your home, your car, your emails, or anything else — it should give you notice of that intrusion unless it has a compelling reason for delay. You see it on television all the time: When the police search a house, they show a warrant or leave one behind at the scene. The individual whose privacy is at stake knows there was a search and what was taken. This isn’t just to amp up drama — it’s a constitutional requirement.

Call For Surveillance Reform 

If the government never told you that it had spied on you, you’d never be able to challenge the search or stop it from happening again. You’d be stuck essentially having to trust that if the government searched your emails or other belongings, it had good reason to and was acting lawfully.

It’s worth noting, however, that the federal government has a long history of abusing its surveillance powers. And as the amount of digital data has expanded, the amount of surveillance has exploded, too. So has the secrecy and the absence of accountability surrounding electronic searches. These searches are conducted under various laws, but they have one thing in common: Individuals rarely find out that their private emails, internet chats, or documents stored in the cloud have been searched. (Some companies strive to inform their customers when the government demands private data, but very often the companies that receive these demands are gagged from saying anything.)

One example of this notice problem involves Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act — a controversial spying law scheduled to expire in December. Under Section 702, the government secretly obtains hundreds of millions of communications each year — including countless emails and phone calls involving Americans — all without a warrant. Yet the government is required to tell individuals that it has spied on them under Section 702 only in very limited circumstances: when the government intends to use evidence that was gathered with the help of such a search in a criminal trial or other legal proceeding.

The vast majority of Americans surveilled under Section 702 will never be criminally prosecuted, so they will never know that the government has been secretly watching them. And without definitive proof that the government spied on them, individuals have an incredibly difficult time challenging the government’s spying in court.

While those who are eventually charged and brought to trial are supposed to have a chance to challenge the government’s surveillance, only a handful of criminal defendants have ever received notice as the statute requires. It’s unlikely that the government isn’t using evidence obtained with the help of Section 702 in criminal investigations and prosecutions. For example, the FBI has said that it routinely combs through its vast Section 702 databases when conducting both national security and ordinary criminal investigations.

The problem may be, instead, that the government is interpreting its duty to give notice far too narrowly — in order to avoid disclosing the spying in criminal cases. We’ve seen this kind of problem before. For five years up until 2013, the Justice Department unlawfully withheld notice of Section 702 surveillance from criminal defendants in every single case. The government eventually changed its notice policy under public pressure. But its new policy remains secret to this day, meaning neither the public nor courts can tell whether the government is providing notice as the law requires.

That brings us to our new FOIA lawsuit. The Justice Department confirmed in response to a FOIA request filed by the ACLU that, late last year, it distributed a 31-page memorandum describing its new policy — which affects both criminal and foreign-intelligence wiretaps — to federal prosecutors. The government, however, refused to release any portion of this memorandum. So we’re suing to get it.

It’s all the more important for the public to know how the government is providing notice of its spying activities because Section 702 of FISA is set to expire this year. As Congress debates whether to reauthorize the statute, information about how the Justice Department interprets its legal obligations is necessary for Congress and the public to have an informed debate about the merits of the law.

For that, it would help to know if the government is obeying it.

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Monique white



Come on, guys. This is a real issue. I'm fourteen and acting more mature than you. Seriously, that's disgusting.


Exactly! Anyone that don’t believe this is just stupid.


Anyone who doesn't believe it hasnt lived through it or they say they don't believe it because they believe the slander against you.

The real questi...

When I was a kid I always heard and read that you could contact the federal government to find out what "data" they had on you in their files. they used to say that "if you asked what was in your file that a file would be created after asking." Regardless, Is there something like that today? Can I request that information somewhere? I would think that if you are being gang stalked the very first thing you would want to know is who was behind it! If it is not the Government...then that would be nice to know.


Community Gang Stalking needs to end. Innocent people are targeted everyday. Law enforcement, Government agencies entering homes without probable cause, following targets and going on a community campaign to slander and ruin their victims. I'm sure the ACLU is familiar with this on- going issue.

I think the ACLU should make a public broadcast about this government abuse on television(news), social media, and in local newspapers especially here in Michigan Washtenaw , Wayne, Saginaw and surrounding counties . Lives are ruined by Gang stalking and Government abuse of spying etc., "This must end ".


This type of Government abuse, Community/Gang stalking is real those who say it isn't are those who are in on it( paid bribed, brainwashed and manipulated to join) or are people who have not experienced this. If an individual have to be watched 24/7/365 what is the purpose, benefit and if that amount of Man power, energy and huge amount of money used to surveil innocent people then wouldn't that same man power, energy & money be used to find the mass number all around the world of missing individuals?

Unsolved crimes -but the Government rather spend TIME wasting sueveiling individuals that can't arrest or even bring in to questioning. With that amount of dedication watching someone 24/7/365 why can't they provide live footage, pictures of the targets actually committing a crime and/ or so-called violent behavior? I say instead of abusing their power use that power to find the missing. And unsolved crimes. Use their power that will actually benefit the community not destroy it with this craziness. Besides more people are learning about this and many are fighting back !; But it will take ACLU and other forms of the Government to make the world aware of this.

Andrea Hernandez

So then me being under surveillance since October 2017 may not be lawful? I’m leaving my name and the date here because I want them to know that I know. I did counter surveillance techniques an Army buddy mentioned to me and there have been drones in my areas along with frequent helicopters.. I know I may sound crazy but those that know, know that I’m not. I just wish this would go away before causing me immense anxiety.. which might I add has been there as I do suffer from depression and anxiety. Just wish someone could and would help me.


I've been fucking getting my freaking privacy violated for the feds for fucking quite some time now and honestly I'm fucking sick and tired of it I mean they be doing way too fucking much and it's crazy how these bastards honestly think they could just get away with it I get at least 10 or 15 helicopters flying Low by my house every fucking day they fucking got my phone hacked I don't fucking deny it because they had my phone overnight and my stupid ass still has the same phone why because I'm currently unemployed and don't have money to buy a new one so I'm fuck but still though these guys the reason they've been investigating me is only because of the fact that myself in a few other individuals know of one of their undercover fucking informants who used to be a big shot caller in my old neighborhood he got caught with a bunch of fake money in the other son of a bitch is a fucking pay it confidential informant


If the US Government gets to break the law 247-365, why not me? Just curious. Isn't the law that currently exists as words on paper supposedly equal to all? Or did I miss something in school?


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