Government Oversight

Crop of photo by Paul Weiskel used by permission

Law Enforcement’s Lobbying Priority In States Is Fighting Transparency

By Allie Bohm, Advocacy & Policy Strategist, ACLU at 9:38am
The ACLU has been working in states across the country on a variety of laws pertaining to law enforcement agencies and their power to gather and access information about us—including location tracking, drones, automatic license plate readers, and access to our electronic communications content. From my vantage point in the ACLU national office working with our state affiliates to advance legislation, I have a unique view of legislative battles taking place across the nation. And what I have seen is that regardless of the issue or the state, there has been one common theme in law enforcement opposition to the bills: they don’t want you to know what they’re doing.
No NSA Poster Child: The Real Story of 9/11 Hijacker Khalid al-Mihdhar

No NSA Poster Child: The Real Story of 9/11 Hijacker Khalid al-Mihdhar

By Mike German, Senior Policy Counsel, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 11:05am

This story originally appeared at Defense One.

Since whistleblower Edward Snowden exposed the incredible scope of the government’s domestic spying programs, two different narratives are moving forward in Congress.

One, expressed…

How Can Smart, Ethical Individuals Form Dumb, Amoral Government Agencies?

How Can Smart, Ethical Individuals Form Dumb, Amoral Government Agencies?

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 12:16pm

Yesterday I set forth some reflections on our giant national security establishment, and how we should think about it. I argued that one very useful way of conceptualizing it is not as a result of politics or personality, but as an institution, which to the first approximation is best thought of as a mindless, amoral, and self-perpetuating primitive life form.

And by saying that, I do not mean to disparage any of the individuals who make up those bureaucracies. I live in Washington and am friends with many government workers who are excellent, thoughtful human beings.

But when you gather many human beings into an institution, that institution tends to take on a life of its own. Most of the individuals who make up the gigantic national security state are reasonably intelligent, and many of them no doubt are exceptionally so. But when you aggregate thousands of intelligent human minds together in a bureaucratic organization, the ironic result is that the collective is sometimes dumber than its individual parts. By the same token, there is no particular reason to think that bureaucracies attract a disproportionate number of amoral or immoral individuals—they surely form the same bell curve as any other group of humans when it comes to characteristics such as empathy, sensitivity, and conscience. But the collective set of such humans can exhibit a marked quality of amorality, as exhibited for example by the willingness of security bureaucracies to do horrifying things such as continue to detain people at Guantanamo who are known to pose no threat to the United States.

Complexity theorists have a concept called emergence, which refers to the fact that when large numbers of individuals

How to Think About the National Security State

How to Think About the National Security State

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 11:00am

The United States has grown a gigantic national security state. According to one analyst, our overall annual security budget is now more than $1.2 trillion. And we now know that includes at least $75 billion for “intelligence.” In the wake of Edward…

ACLU in Defense One: Obama's Whistleblower Witchhunt Won't Work at DOD

ACLU in Defense One: Obama's Whistleblower Witchhunt Won't Work at DOD

By Gabe Rottman, Legislative Counsel, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 11:55am

For two decades during the Cold War, an ultra-secret "mole" hunting squad at the Central Intelligence Agency, led by James Jesus Angleton, investigated hundreds of loyal government workers, primarily Eastern Europeans, in an obsessive search for Soviet…

NSA Surveillance: No Checks, No Balance

NSA Surveillance: No Checks, No Balance

By Jameel Jaffer, ACLU Deputy Legal Director and Director of ACLU Center for Democracy at 1:18pm

About two weeks ago, Sens. Patrick Leahy and Chuck Grassley, the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, wrote a letter to the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court asking questions about the court's operations in advance…

Honoring Chelsea Manning on Her 27th Birthday

Honoring Chelsea Manning on Her 27th Birthday

By Chase Strangio, Staff Attorney, ACLU at 12:18pm

From the United States Disciplinary Barracks in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where she is serving a 35-year prison sentence for convictions related to leaking classified information to Wikileaks, Chelsea Manning continues to speak out against the injustices…

The US's Story of Torture Doesn't Have to End With Impunity

The US's Story of Torture Doesn't Have to End With Impunity

By Hina Shamsi, Director, ACLU National Security Project at 5:16pm

After five long years of investigation, declassification, and redaction – not to mention outright obstruction by the CIA – the Senate Intelligence Committee today shone more light on CIA torture and made a historic and necessary contribution to…

Is Law Enforcement Getting Wiser About Its Use of New Technologies?

Is Law Enforcement Getting Wiser About Its Use of New Technologies?

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 11:14am

Some leading police officials around the nation seem to be realizing that high-technology surveillance systems need to be deployed with great care, lest they prompt a public backlash. As the Atlantic Cities pointed out in a piece Friday, the Seattle…

Is the Security State Mainly Looking Out For Us, Or For Itself? Two Paradigms Compared

Is the Security State Mainly Looking Out For Us, Or For Itself? Two Paradigms Compared

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 10:04am

Edward Snowden’s whistleblowing has generated much debate within the United States over whether his leaking of NSA documents was a heroic act or something deserving of punishment. And the NSA activities that he has revealed have similarly generated…

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