The Department of Justice has just released its annual report on its surveillance activities for 2010 including its use of secret court orders, National Security Letters (NSLs) and electronic and physical surveillance — and boy were they busy. The report disclosed a dramatic increase in surveillance of Americans between 2009 and 2010, and these statistics don’t even include surveillance conducted under the new FISA Amendments Act.
The government more than quadrupled its use of secret court subpoenas, known as 215 orders, which give the government access to "any tangible thing," including a wide range of sensitive information such as financial records, medical records, and even library records. In 2010, the FBI made 96 applications, up from just 21 in 2009.
There was also a huge increase in NSLs, which allow the FBI to demand records related to a broad range of personal information, including financial records, a list of e-mail addresses with which a person has corresponded, and even the identity of a person who has posted anonymous speech on a political website, all without the permission or supervision of a court. In 2010, the FBI more than doubled the number of U.S. persons it surveilled with NSLs, requesting 24,287 NSLs on 14,212 people, up from 14,788 NSLs on 6,114 people the year before. The FBI also increased its electronic and physical surveillance, making 1,579 applications to wiretap and physically search individuals’ property last year, up from 1,376 the year before.
In just a few weeks, three of the most controversial provisions of the Patriot Act are set to expire: the aforementioned 215 orders; the roving wiretap provision that allows the government to listen in on phone calls without specifically identifying a phone line for their tap, or even a target; and the "lone wolf provision," which has never been used, but nevertheless allows the government to conduct surveillance on non-U.S. citizens who have no connection to a terrorist organization.
This report is yet another example of the need for reform. For nearly 10 years, the Patriot Act has allowed the government to abuse the privacy of innocent Americans by spying on them without cause or accountability. With three of the most troubling provisions expiring at the end of the month, now is the time to demand that Congress protect our Constitutional rights, and rein in the government’s abusive surveillance practices.