NSA Can Access Much of Americans’ Digital Lives

ACLU Says Vast Surveillance Authority Must Have Public Oversight

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 6, 2013

CONTACT: 212-549-2666, media@aclu.org

NEW YORK – The government has the ability to secretly tap into a wide range of Americans’ online activities, according to reports in The Washington Post and The Guardian.

“The secrecy surrounding the government’s extraordinary surveillance powers has stymied our system of checks and balances,” said Laura Murphy, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington Legislative Office. “Congress must initiate an investigation to fully uncover the scope of these powers and their constraints, and it must enact reforms that protect Americans’ right to privacy and that enable effective public oversight of our government. There is a time and a place for government secrecy, but true democracy demands that the governed be informed of the rules of play so as to hold elected officials to account.”

The reported program appears to be based on the FISA Amendments Act, which authorizes surveillance of communications if one party is believed to be outside the U.S. The ACLU’s lawsuit challenging the law’s constitutionality was dismissed 5-4 by the Supreme Court in February on the grounds that the plaintiffs could not prove that they had been monitored.

“The stories published over the last two days make clear that the NSA – part of the military – now has direct access to every corner of Americans’ digital lives,” said ACLU Deputy Legal Director Jameel Jaffer, who argued the case before the Supreme Court. “Unchecked government surveillance presents a grave threat to democratic freedoms. These revelations are a reminder that Congress has given the executive branch far too much power to invade individual privacy, that existing civil liberties safeguards are grossly inadequate, and that powers exercised entirely in secret, without public accountability of any kind, will certainly be abused.”

On Wednesday, The Guardian released a secret order from the FISA Court revealing that the U.S. government has been using Section 215 of the Patriot Act to track the calls of every Verizon Business Network Services customer. View our interactive feature explaining different parts of the order here

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