Government Surveillance

Mobile Phone Surveillance by the Numbers

Mobile Phone Surveillance by the Numbers

By Chris Calabrese, Legislative Counsel, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 10:56am
Wow.  Sometimes one word says it all.  The New York Times reports that in response to letters from Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA) and Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), mobile phone providers disclosed that they received approximately 1.3 million law enforcement requests for customer records last year alone. What an extraordinary number: more than a million accounts subject to at least some level of law enforcement investigation just in 2011. As we have discussed elsewhere, beyond what is reported by carriers in these letters, there is absolutely no reporting or tracking regarding how these numbers are handled.  
British Spying Is Our Problem, Too

British Spying Is Our Problem, Too

By Alex Sinha, Aryeh Neier Fellow, Human Rights Watch & ACLU at 2:02pm

The chilling effect of surveillance may be spreading across the Atlantic.

We learned last week that GCHQ – the U.K. equivalent of the NSA – permits its employees to target the communications of journalists and lawyers. That revelation has…

Crop of photo by Arlo Bates via Flickr

Utah Enacts Significant Location and Communications Privacy Bill

By Allie Bohm, Advocacy & Policy Strategist, ACLU at 3:53pm

On Monday, Utah became the first state to enact legislation simultaneously protecting location information and electronic communications content, regardless of age, from government access—ensuring that state and local law enforcement can only access…

Cell Phone Companies Reveal How Much Cops Love Your Phone

Cell Phone Companies Reveal How Much Cops Love Your Phone

By Catherine Crump, Staff Attorney, ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology Project at 12:06pm

Cellphones are the spies in our pockets, gathering information about whom we befriend, what we say, where we go, and what we read. That’s why Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., recently asked the nation’s major cellphone companies to disclose how frequently they receive requests from law enforcement for customer call records—including the content of communications, numbers dialed, websites visited, and location data. Sometimes police have a warrant, sometimes they don’t.

Seven companies provided information in response to the inqury. The letters Markey received, which were covered today in the Boston Globe, Washington Post, and New York Times, show that the quantity of requests for these records is staggering. T-Mobile and AT&T together received nearly 600,000 requests for customer information in 2012. AT&T has to employ more than 100 full-time workers to process them. And police demand for our call records is growing rapidly, with requests to Verizon doubling in the last five years.

This piece was originally published on Slate. Click here to read the full article.

What if the Government Hid Bugs and Video Cameras in Every American Home?

What if the Government Hid Bugs and Video Cameras in Every American Home?

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

Top government officials have been defending the NSA’s secret collection of phone records of every American. But the argument they are using today to justify mass surveillance of phone calls could be used to justify ANY amount of intrusion into Americans’ private lives. Imagine, for example, what would happen if it were discovered that the NSA had placed a secret microphone and video camera in the living room and bedroom of every home in America. It’s easy to predict how the government would defend that kind of spying. Here is what they would probably say:

  • The audio and video data collected from Americans’ homes do not constitute “surveillance” because nobody watches or listens to the recordings, unless they obtain a warrant. Actually, not a real warrant, or even a subpoena, but permission through an internal NSA process based on—trust us!—very, very strict criteria. Or in a small number of other very exceptional circumstances.
  • The program has been approved by the chairs of the major congressional intelligence committees, as well as the secret FISA Court.
  • While it’s true that even the sweepingly broad Patriot Act requires that data be “relevant” to an investigation, there has never been a requirement that every piece of data in a dataset that is turned over be relevant, only that the data set be generally relevant . When it comes to the mass of data that we are collecting from people’s homes, we know there is relevant information in there, and if we don’t preserve that data, we won’t be able to find it when we need it.
  • At least 50 acts of terrorism-like crimes have been prevented. We can’t release details of these successes, but they include several people caught building bomb-like objects in their kitchens, two instances in which women who were kidnapped years ago were found being kept prisoner within private homes, and numerous instances of domestic violence.

All of the arguments above are essentially what the NSA’s current defenders have been saying. My point is that there are few limits to the spying that their arguments could be used to justify.

The idea of the NSA secretly visiting every home in America to hide audio and video bugs inside may seem far-fetched, but what they have actually done is not quite as different as it might seem. It was not long ago that in order for the government to collect telephone metadata (all telephone numbers called and received), the authorities had to attach telephone bugs known as “pen register” and “trap and trace” devices to a home’s physical telephone line. Today it no longer needs to do that, but its mass collection of telephone metadata accomplishes the same end through virtual means, and just because the technology makes it possible to carry out such spying through the reshuffling of digital files at telephone central offices, doesn’t mean it’s any less intrusive than if the NSA were to physically attach a bug on the telephone wires outside every home.

A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Plum Job in Opposition to General Warrants (in 1760)

A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Plum Job in Opposition to General Warrants (in 1760)

By Kade Crockford, Director, ACLU of Massachusetts Technology for Liberty Project at 4:14pm

A new poll conducted by the University of New Hampshire for the Boston Globe reveals that 40 percent of Massachusetts...

ACLU Files FOIA Request for Unreleased DHS Privacy Report on Laptop Searches at the Border

ACLU Files FOIA Request for Unreleased DHS Privacy Report on Laptop Searches at the Border

By Katie Haas, Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project at 10:07am

Aiming to determine the impact of border searches on Americans’ civil liberties, the Department of Homeland Security has produced a report on its policy of combing through and sometimes confiscating travelers’ laptops, cell phones, and other electronic…

Today at the Supreme Court: The Right to Challenge Warrantless Wiretapping

Today at the Supreme Court: The Right to Challenge Warrantless Wiretapping

By Mitra Ebadolahi, Border Litigation Staff Attorney, ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties at 6:26pm

The ACLU appeared before the Supreme Court to argue for the right of Americans to challenge a law that instituted a far-reaching and unconstitutional surveillance regime. 

Computers vs. Humans: What Constitutes A Privacy Invasion?

Computers vs. Humans: What Constitutes A Privacy Invasion?

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 12:37pm

The NSA is refusing to tell two U.S. Senators how many Americans the agency has eavesdropped upon. According to a letter obtained by Wired, the NSA claims that “dedicating sufficient additional resources” to gather that information “would likely…

Government Confirms That It Has Secret Interpretation of Patriot Act Spy Powers

Government Confirms That It Has Secret Interpretation of Patriot Act Spy Powers

By Alex Abdo, Staff Attorney, ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project at 12:59pm

The government has just officially confirmed what we've long suspected: there are secret Justice Department opinions about the Patriot Act's Section 215, which allows the government to get secret orders from a special surveillance court (the FISA…

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