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Since 9/11, the Government Might Know You're Reading This

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  • Dan Clore
    News & Views for Anarchists & Activists: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/smygo
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 12, 2011
      News & Views for Anarchists & Activists:

      Sun, Sep. 11, 2011
      Commentary: Since 9/11, the government might know you're reading this
      Michelle Richardson
      American Civil Liberties Union

      "If you're not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about."

      Many Americans have said this, or heard it, when discussing the expanded
      surveillance capabilities the government has claimed since 9/11. But, it
      turns out you should be concerned. Just ask peace activists in
      Pittsburgh, anti-death penalty activists in Maryland, Ron Paul
      supporters in Missouri, an anarchist in Texas, groups on both sides of
      the abortion debate in Wisconsin, Muslim-Americans and many others who
      pose no threat to their communities.

      Some of them were labeled as terrorists in state and federal databases
      or placed on terror watch-lists, impeding their travel, misleading
      investigators and putting these innocent Americans at risk.

      The Fourth Amendment requirement that you must be suspected of
      wrongdoing before the government searches your private records risks
      becoming a quaint notion. Congress weakened the laws designed to protect
      our privacy, while the executive branch secretly re-interprets or simply
      ignores the law with no consequence.

      While your privacy is being sacrificed, there's little evidence the new
      spying programs are catching terrorists.

      The question should be, "If you're not doing anything wrong, why is the
      government snooping on you?"

      After 9/11, Congress hastily passed the Patriot Act, the first of many
      changes to surveillance laws making it easier for the government to spy
      on you without having any evidence, or even suspicion you've done
      something wrong, often with no meaningful judicial oversight.

      These loosened surveillance laws provide access to a growing trove of
      electronic information about your everyday life: who you talk to or
      e-mail, where you shop, your credit rating, the websites you visit,
      where you bank, what you read and more; without having to show a judge
      any evidence you've done anything wrong.

      With a National Security Letter, the FBI can go directly to a bank or
      internet service provider and compel them to turn over records on people
      who are not even suspected of having terrorist ties. Audits of the FBI's
      use of this tool discovered that 40-50,000 of these letters are issued
      every year.

      If the government wants to make a really deep grab for information, it
      can go to a secret intelligence court and obtain an order for 'any
      tangible thing' or a year-long directive for bulk collection of your
      communications coming into and out of United States.

      The FBI has also claimed new powers to investigate you using
      "assessments," which allow unlimited physical surveillance, using
      informants, and conducting interviews of neighbors or co-workers, all
      without having any indication you are engaged in illegal activity or
      pose a national security threat.

      The FBI opened more than 82,000 of these assessments from March 2009 to
      March 2011, only 3,315 of which discovered any information to justify
      starting an investigation. But the FBI keeps all of the personal
      information gathered in the 79,000 cases that found no wrongdoing,
      essentially forever.

      These are the programs we know about. Secret government surveillance
      programs, like the National Security Agency's illegal warrantless
      wiretapping program, rely on secret re-interpretations of the law to
      justify ignoring the law.

      Senator Ron Wyden, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee,
      believes most Americans would be shocked to know how broadly the
      government interprets the Patriot Act. He recently said there is a, "gap
      between what the public thinks the law says and what the American
      government secretly thinks the law says."

      There is little evidence these spying programs have thwarted attacks.
      Inspectors general of key security agencies who reviewed the NSA
      warrantless wiretapping program found no hard evidence the program made
      us safer, despite its unprecedented scope. Similarly, though the FBI
      made close to 150,000 National Security Letter requests from 2003 to
      2005, the Department of Justice Inspector General documented only one
      conviction in a terrorism case using the data during that period, and
      found no instance in which they helped prevent an actual terrorist plot.

      Investigating innocent people doesn't help find guilty people. Spying on
      innocents makes us less safe by diverting security resources from
      investigations with actual suspicion of wrongdoing.

      But rather than learn from these results, the government demands more
      authority. Last year, it asked to get sensitive records about people's
      internet use without warrants, and this year, it is proposing a broad
      new cyber-security scheme allowing communication providers to routinely
      turn over our private information to the Department of Homeland Security.

      With so many well-documented cases of abuse, it's long past time for
      Congress to narrow these surveillance authorities and hold the
      intelligence agencies publicly accountable.


      Michelle Richardson is a legislative counsel with the American Civil
      Liberties Union Washington Legislative Office, focusing on national
      security issues such as the Patriot Act, warrantless surveillance and
      state secrets. She can be reached by email at media@....

      McClatchy Newspapers did not subsidize the writing of this column; the
      opinions are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the
      views of McClatchy Newspapers or its editors.

      Dan Clore

      New book: _Weird Words: A Lovecraftian Lexicon_:
      My collected fiction: _The Unspeakable and Others_
      Lord We├┐rdgliffe & Necronomicon Page:
      News & Views for Anarchists & Activists:

      Skipper: Professor, will you tell these people who is
      in charge on this island?
      Professor: Why, no one.
      Skipper: No one?
      Thurston Howell III: No one? Good heavens, this is anarchy!
      -- _Gilligan's Island_, episode #6, "President Gilligan"
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