Just last week, and before that in a recent op-ed I wrote on the Patriot Act, I've mentioned what some call "Secret Patriot Act" provisions and whether they relate to the government using cellular data to track Americans as they move around the U.S.
Here's the key point: the government has been claiming information regarding its interpretations and uses of the Patriot Act - particularly in relation to surveillance of American citizens - is classified. What tipped people like myself off that something was especially fishy were Senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall sounding the alarm bells consistently and passionately for months now regarding this "secret legal interpretation" of the Patriot Act - one they claim is so broad that it gives the government massive domestic surveillance powers.
- In just a 13-month period, Sprint received over 8 million demands for location information;
- Michigan police sought information about every mobile phone near the site of a planned labor protest;
- This spring, researchers revealed that iPhones were collecting and storing location information;
- Just last week, the general counsel of the National Security Agency suggested to members of Congress that the NSA might have the authority to collect the location information of American citizens inside the U.S.
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) will seek to block passage of an intelligence bill that extends the government’s eavesdropping authorities because the intelligence community won’t say how many Americans are being monitored...
"Congress passed the FISA Amendments Act in 2008 in an effort to give the government new authorities to conduct surveillance of foreigners outside the United States,” Wyden said in a statement. “The bill contained an expiration date of December 2012, and the purpose of this expiration date was to force members of Congress to come back in a few years and examine whether these new authorities had been interpreted and implemented as intended,” Wyden wrote. “I believe that Congress has not yet adequately examined this issue, and that there are important questions that need to be answered before the FISA
After first opposing them, then-Sen. Obama voted for the 2008 FISA changes, which gave legal immunity to telecom companies that cooperated with Bush’s spying program. He said he became convinced the capabilities were needed to hunt for terrorists.
Wyden also wants to know to what extent the government is tracking the location of Americans using data from their cellphones. Mobile devices are regularly telling their networks where they are, even when the use is not making a call, and that data is regularly used by law enforcement to track criminal suspects and fugitives. Whether intelligence agencies are doing that domestically is an open question.
“During a July 2011 committee hearing, the general counsel of the National Security Agency acknowledged that certain legal pleadings by the executive branch and court opinions from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court regarding the Patriot Act are classified,” Wyden and Udall said in dissent included in the Senate committee report on the bill. “We have had the opportunity to review these pleadings and rulings, and we believe that most members of the American public would be very surprised to learn how federal surveillance law is being interpreted in secret.”
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While its heartening, and frankly inspiring, to see an elected official stand so strongly in favor of the bill of rights at a time when they are viewed with such disdain by governmental and corporate power, I'm perhaps more disheartened by the fact that the Wyden/Udall Amendments can't even pass out of a Democratic controlled Committee. As for Obama's flip flopping and betrayals on privacy and civil liberties related issues, this is now expected.
It should be noted however that Senator Wyden is by no means on his own in the locational tracking and transparency fight. Just today the ACLU of California demanded information on how police are using surveillance technology to track people. The group has asked for public records from more than 50 police agencies across state focusing on mobile phone location data, GPS tracking, information gathered from social networking sites.
- Statistics on how agencies are obtaining, using, storing and sharing personal information;
- The stated purpose for gathering personal information, guidelines on how long the data is kept, when and how it is deleted, and whether privacy safeguards exist;
- Training curricula, policies or protocol provided to officers to guide them in the use of these powerful new surveillance tools, including the capture of information from social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter;
- Whether police demonstrate probable cause and obtain a warrant to access mobile phone location data and to collect other detailed personal information, or take a dragnet approach that captures data on individuals who are not suspected of wrongdoing;
- The effectiveness of the use of digital surveillance in identifying or arresting suspects.