Government Surveillance

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 our knowledge or consent. Given how difficult it is to get federal law enforcement agencies to comply with their obligation to disclose documents to the public under the Freedom of Information Act — I spend a lot of my time working on just that — it is exceedingly valuable to have someone of Sen. Paul's stature pushing for greater transparency.
The NSA's Spying On Americans: Not As "Inadvertent" As It Claims

The NSA's Spying On Americans: Not As "Inadvertent" As It Claims

By Patrick C. Toomey, Staff Attorney, ACLU National Security Project at 10:19am

Another week, another trove of documents detailing the inner secrets of the NSA's massive spying program. Recent revelations have finally provided a look at the procedures that the NSA uses to target and retain communications under the FISA Amendments…

First in the Nation: Montana Requires a Warrant for Location Tracking

First in the Nation: Montana Requires a Warrant for Location Tracking

By Allie Bohm, Advocacy & Policy Strategist, ACLU at 10:15am

Montana just made history. It recently enacted the first state law in the nation (sponsored by Rep. Daniel Zolnikov (R-Billings)) requiring...

DHS Releases Disappointing Civil Liberties Report on Border Searches of Laptops and Other Electronics

DHS Releases Disappointing Civil Liberties Report on Border Searches of Laptops and Other Electronics

By Brian Hauss, Legal Fellow, ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology Project at 3:49pm

In response to an ACLU Freedom of Information Act request, the Department of Homeland Security has at long last released its December 2011 Civil Rights/Civil Liberties Impact Assessment of its policy of conducting suspicionless searches of electronic…

Court Says No GPS Tracking? How About Cell Phone Tracking?

Court Says No GPS Tracking? How About Cell Phone Tracking?

By Sarah Roberts, Speech, Privacy and Technology Project at 12:55pm

After the Supreme Court ruled the police cannot attach a GPS device to a suspect's car to track them, law enforcement is trying to use cell phone location data to get the same information.

Yep, Uncle Sam Still Wants to Log Your Calls

Yep, Uncle Sam Still Wants to Log Your Calls

By Rachel Nusbaum, Media Strategist, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 4:59pm

Today, in a hushed courtroom in Washington, D.C., not far from the now-empty halls of Congress, a federal appeals court heard arguments in Klayman v. Obama, a challenge to the NSA's bulk collection of telephone metadata first revealed by Edward Snowden.…

So you think you have nothing to hide...

So you think you have nothing to hide...

By Kade Crockford, Director, ACLU of Massachusetts Technology for Liberty Project at 11:00pm

Governments at the local, state, and federal level increasingly collect troves of sensitive information about where we go, what we read, who we know, what we buy, and more. Some people say they don't care about this silent and ever present surveillance.…

The FISA Court’s Problems Run Deep, and More Than Tinkering is Required

The FISA Court’s Problems Run Deep, and More Than Tinkering is Required

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 10:14am

With the latest release of documents about the NSA and the FISA Court (this one in response to an ACLU/EFF Freedom of Information Act request) we now have yet more evidence that the NSA’s compliance with the court’s orders has been poor. We learn,…

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.

The Ten Most Disturbing Things You Should Know About the FBI Since 9/11

The Ten Most Disturbing Things You Should Know About the FBI Since 9/11

By Matthew Harwood, Media Strategist, ACLU at 12:24pm

Next Tuesday, James Comey will have his first job interview for succeeding Robert Mueller as director of the FBI.

Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee will not only have the chance to determine whether Comey is qualified for the job—and…

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