Warrantless Wiretapping

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The USA FREEDOM Act is Real Spying Reform

The USA FREEDOM Act is Real Spying Reform

By Michelle Richardson, Legislative Counsel, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 10:11am
Over the last several months, members of Congress have introduced at least two dozen spying reform and transparency bills. Today, a new proposal called the USA FREEDOM Act from Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) was introduced to significantly limit the collection and use of Americans' information under our nation's spying laws. The ACLU strongly supports the legislation.
Edward Snowden is a Whistleblower

Edward Snowden is a Whistleblower

By Michael German, Senior Policy Counsel, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 12:00am

My American Civil Liberties Union colleagues and I have been extremely busy since the Guardian and the Washington Post published leaked classified documents exposing the scope of the...

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 NSA is turning the internet into a total surveillance system

The NSA is turning the internet into a total surveillance system

By Alex Abdo, Staff Attorney, ACLU National Security Project & Patrick C. Toomey, Staff Attorney, ACLU National Security Project at 10:13am

Now we know all Americans' international email is searched and saved, we can see how far the 'collect it all' mission has gone...

Misdirection: The House Intelligence Committee’s Misleading Patriot Act Talking Points

Misdirection: The House Intelligence Committee’s Misleading Patriot Act Talking Points

By Michelle Richardson, Legislative Counsel, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 1:46pm

This week the House Intelligence Committee circulated nine talking points to its members explaining why the dragnet collection of innocent Americans’ call records is both legal and effective at stopping terrorism. After reviewing the document, the ACLU has gone point-by-point, making notes that either refute or raise serious doubts about almost every assertion in the one-pager. Just click on the document below and hover on the red dots to see our comments.

ACLU of Northern California files shareholder proposal with AT&T and Verizon on NSA Data Sharing

ACLU of Northern California files shareholder proposal with AT&T and Verizon on NSA Data Sharing

By Abdi Soltani, Executive Director, ACLU of Northern California at 1:53pm

When I found out that AT&T and Verizon have been handing over information about millions of customers’ calls to the National Security Agency (NSA) I was outraged. Secret, unchecked surveillance is antithetical to democracy, and the…

A Call for FBI Reform

A Call for FBI Reform

By Matthew Harwood, Media Strategist, ACLU at 12:00pm

Early this summer, the Guardian published a monster story. According to a document it obtained from a government whistleblower...

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…

The NSA Surveillance Order, Explained by the ACLU

The NSA Surveillance Order, Explained by the ACLU

By Alex Abdo, Staff Attorney, ACLU National Security Project at 5:58pm

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court order released yesterday by The Guardian reveals that the U.S. government is regularly tracking the phone calls of potentially millions of Americans.

ACLU attorneys have been monitoring the U.S. government’s…

Setting the Bar for Intelligence Reform

Setting the Bar for Intelligence Reform

By Michelle Richardson, Legislative Counsel, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 11:03am

Yesterday afternoon, the first shot in the fight for comprehensive intelligence reform was fired.

Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Mark Udall (D-Ore.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) held a press conference to discuss the government's…

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