Government Surveillance

Raiding the "Corporate Store": The NSA's Unfettered Access to a Vast Pool of Americans' Phone Data

Raiding the "Corporate Store": The NSA's Unfettered Access to a Vast Pool of Americans' Phone Data

By Patrick C. Toomey, Staff Attorney, ACLU National Security Project at 10:10am
The director of National Intelligence declassified three documents on Wednesday related to the NSA's mass collection of Americans' telephone records. One of these — a so-called "primary order" issued by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) — describes in new detail the rules that the NSA must follow when it collects and queries this trove of sensitive telephone data. What it reveals is not reassuring. Despite intelligence officials' repeated assertions that their access to Americans' phone records is extremely limited and tightly controlled, the primary order suggests NSA analysts can sift through far more telephone data — with far fewer restrictions — than government officials have let on in public. In particular, the primary order shows that NSA analysts have unfettered access to a pool of telephone data called the "corporate store," which likely contains millions of Americans' calling records.
ACLU at DEF CON 21!

ACLU at DEF CON 21!

By Noa Yachot, Communications Strategist, ACLU at 10:04am

It's DEF CON time! The preeminent hacker convention kicked off yesterday in Las Vegas, and a team of ACLU experts are there. If you're in town, come visit us in the vendor area, where we're on hand to chat about what has been a pretty eventful year…

How to Decode the True Meaning of What NSA Officials Say

How to Decode the True Meaning of What NSA Officials Say

By Jameel Jaffer, ACLU Deputy Legal Director and Director of ACLU Center for Democracy & Brett Max Kaufman, Legal Fellow, ACLU National Security Project at 12:09pm

This piece was originally published on Slate.

James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, has been harshly criticized for having misled Congress earlier this year about the scope of the National Security Agency's surveillance activities.…

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…

What the FBI Needs to Tell Americans About Its Use of Drones

What the FBI Needs to Tell Americans About Its Use of Drones

By Catherine Crump, Staff Attorney, ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology Project at 3:17pm

You've got to hand it to Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.): He has become one of the foremost members of Congress fighting for Americans' privacy rights, and has worked doggedly to shed light on how the government is using new technologies to monitor us without…

From the NSA to License Plate Readers: Are We to Have a “Collect it All” Society?

From the NSA to License Plate Readers: Are We to Have a “Collect it All” Society?

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 10:44am

If the NSA needs a slogan, it should probably be “collect it all.” As phrased by an anonymous intel official recently quoted by the Washington Post, that has apparently been the approach of agency leadership in recent years. But the fight over whether that’s an appropriate strategy for keeping order in a democratic society is one that stretches far beyond the NSA programs now being debated.

For example, look at automatic license plate recognition systems, which are now sprouting up around the country. As we detailed in our recent report on the technology, many police departments are collecting and storing not only information about vehicles that are wanted by the police, but also location information about everybody who drives a car. Some police have defended this practice by arguing, essentially, that “you never know when or what we might need to solve a crime.”

In other words, nobody who accepts the NSA’s argument that universal collection is the right answer ought to be surprised when

License Plate Readers: Just Don’t Keep Data on Innocent People!

License Plate Readers: Just Don’t Keep Data on Innocent People!

By Katie Haas, Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project at 11:42am

Our recent report on license plate scanners, You Are Being Tracked, reveals a lot about the privacy problems caused by the proliferation of this technology. But the report also shows that there are simple solutions that would go a long way toward transforming…

The NSA, the Constitution, and Collection vs. Use of Information

The NSA, the Constitution, and Collection vs. Use of Information

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 10:44am

My colleague Alex Abdo has published a nice op-ed in the Guardian this morning on the NSA's dragnet data collection programs, and the Amash Amendment that is currently being considered by the house to curb it. Alex reaches to the heart of the NSA's argument:

The NSA argues that its collection of every American's phone records is constitutional because the agency stores the records in a lockbox and looks at the records only if and when it has a reason to search them. In other words, it claims that the constitution is not concerned with the acquisition of our sensitive data, only with the later searching of it.

This is an extremely dangerous argument. For two centuries, American courts have taken the view that the constitution is concerned with the government's initial intrusion upon privacy, and not only with the later uses to which the government puts the information it has collected. That's why it is unconstitutional for the government, without a warrant, to seize your journal even if it never reads it; to record your phone call even if it never listens to it; or to videotape your bedroom activities even if it never presses play.

Alex also points out that if accepted, there is no limit to the data collection this argument could justify. (See also this post on that point.)

The Chilling Effects of License-Plate Location Tracking

The Chilling Effects of License-Plate Location Tracking

By Mica Moore, ACLU & Bennett Stein, ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology Project at 12:12pm

Location tracking has far-reaching implications for the way we live, even if we don't think we've done anything wrong. Our recent report, "You Are Being Tracked," shows that automatic license plate readers allow law enforcement to track every car on…

Use of Automated License Plate Readers Expanding in Northern California, and Data is Shared With Feds

Use of Automated License Plate Readers Expanding in Northern California, and Data is Shared With Feds

By Matthew Cagle, Volunteer Attorney, ACLU of Northern California at 10:51am

The feeling of freedom that comes from driving down California’s sunny open roads is at risk—and rising gas prices are not to blame. Our investigations show that at least twenty Northern California law enforcement entities as well as the California…

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