If the growing use of governmental tip-toeing to wiretap phone lines
and emails doesn’t seem serious, think again. So heightened lately are
concerns over surveillance that two major organizations have published a
primer on federal spy programs.
Both ProPublica and the Electronic Frontier Foundation have
released thorough guides this week that explore what the US government
can and can’t do in terms of tracking US citizens using an array of
weirdly-worded wiretap laws currently on the books.
The EFF, a
long-time opponent of the expanding evasive spy state, published on
Thursday a collection of information they’re considering “Warrantless
Surveillance 101: Introducing EFF's New NSA Domestic Spying Guide.” Just
two days earlier, the independent journalism project ProPublica
released their own breakdown, “No Warrant, No Problem: How The
Government Can Still Get Your Digital Data.”
Although both the EFF
and ProPublica reports highlight the history of federal surveillance
going back to the start of the United States, it’s no coincidence that
they are just now offering insight into the government’s spy programs.
In recent months, Congress has considered an array of legislation that
allows for different types of surveillance, and the Senate and House are
expected to soon weigh in even more heavily.
As ProPublica notes, just last week the Senate “took a step toward updating privacy protection for emails” by approving an updated to the 1986 Electronic Communications and Privacy Act (ECPA)
that will require law enforcement agents to obtain a warrant before
reading emails older than 180 days. ProPublica predicts that Congress
will push the issue aside, however, and go back to passing haunting
legislation that lets Uncle Sam access seemingly everything.
“Meantime,” the site reads, “here’s how police can track you without a warrant now.”
From there, the organization breaks down the basics behind how cops can
obtain warrants and what the law says about how they’re used.
US government isn’t allowed to wiretap American citizens without a
warrant from a judge. But there are plenty of legal ways for law
enforcement, from the local sheriff to the FBI, to snoop on the digital
trails you create every day,” the site acknowledges. Phone records,
location data, IP addresses, emails, text messages and data stores on
the cloud can all be collected by the government, ProPublica warns, and
some of that can be received with just a simple court order or another
“Authorities can often obtain your emails and texts by going to Google or AT&T with a simple subpoena,” they warn. “Usually you won’t even be notified.”
their part, the EFF presents a more thorough examination into not just
who can administer these wiretaps and with how much ease, but breaks
down the history of the National Security Agency and the multitude of
scandals it has involved itself in regarding domestic surveillance going
all the way back to its infancy during the Truman administration.
the government claims the NSA’s infamous program is too secret to be
litigated, it isn't a secret — and we’ve catalogued the trove of
information that has become public since it was first revealed by the
New York Times in 2005,” the EFF explains. “This including
declarations under oath by an AT&T whistleblower and three NSA
whistleblowers, sworn testimony before Congress, investigations by
government Inspectors General and stories by major media organizations
based on highly placed sources, along with public admissions by
In order to provide a blueprint for
persons trying to familiarize themselves with NSA spying as the EFF
awaits a court date in the matter later this month, they’ve published a
NSA domestic spying timeline, an explanation of how the NSA conducts the
spying, a history of the controversial ‘state secrets’ privilege and a
breakdown of how the government uses word games in order to avoid
disclosing their dastardly secrets.
In an easy-to-view format, the
EFF has uploaded information from Inspectors General reports, court
hearings, Congressional testimonies and mainstream news articles
detailing the history of the NSA and how the government has used the
ECPA along with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and
other legislation to legally (more or less) go through loops.
The EFF will be back in federal court on December 14 in the latest arguments in the case of Jewel v. NSA,
a five-year old case that involves the National Security Agency’s
involvement in a top-secret spy program with telecom giants AT&T.
December 14th, we hope that the Northern District of California federal
court will agree with us that our case challenging illegal domestic
spying should move forward,” says the EFF. “ Warrantless
wiretapping isn't a state secret—it's a clear violation of FISA, other
laws, and the Constitution.
Government secrecy claims should not mean
that the violation of the privacy rights of millions of ordinary
Americans are swept under the rug.”