Electronic Surveillance Requests are up 500 Percent in the United States
A recent release by the courts shows that electronic surveillance is up by 500 percent in and around Washing D.C.; including parts of Virginia. The release is broad, and general leaving many unanswered questions. Listing show that the growth of electronic surveillance by law enforcement has grown to new heights since the 1986 law that allowed the collection of user data such as phone records, email and other internet related communications.
“Unsealing basic docket information is an important first step for courts to recognize that they have been long enabling a kind of vast, secret system of surveillance that we now know to be so pervasive,” Staff Attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, Brett Kaufman said.
Two federal courts are included with having the most activity when it comes to these requests, facilitating investigations that stretch across the nation. These two courts are also the only known courts to have made disclosures about the surveillance dockets.
“There are no broad generalizations or presumptions about when matters are sealed or not sealed, and these decisions are an individualized process,” spokesman for the Justice Department, Peter Carr stated. “When courts choose to share information on the use of these investigative tools, the Department of Justice has worked with them to preserve the integrity of ongoing investigations, and shield witnesses and the reputations of targets who are never charged.”
Even as far as Northern Virginia they have seen the requests go up to 500 percent in just the past five years, from 305 in 2011 to 1,800 this year. Out of the 4,113 cases, only one of those has been unsealed according to information from the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.
Meanwhile in Washington D.C., the number has risen from 235 requests in 2012 to 564 in 2013. That’s a 240 percent increase in a year. Three of the 235 applications from 2012 were ever unsealed. The courts list the applications to federal judges in hopes of being able to track the data, but not to eavesdrop on the user’s communications. Data includes sender and recipient information, date and time, duration of contact periods, emails, instant messaging data, as well as social media messages and information. Also included is identifying device numbers and website information.
The list from Virginia also included requests made under an old law in 2011 that permitted authorities to read the content of emails. Listings also identified the case number of each request, the date, and the name of the judge who reviewed the application. No mention of the crimes that sparked the investigations, no associated suspect information, and it doesn’t mention if any of the investigations are still going, or if they have ended. The list also makes no mention on whether the applications are approved or denied, or whether there were any challenges to the requests.
Information pertaining to pen register and trap and trace orders were only made public after aor litigation done by the ACLU, EFF, journalists and some service providers. The ACLU urged all courts to discloser the information so law makers can learn whether there is gain from trading privacy for public safety.
“It’s hard to understand whether this surveillance is necessary or whether there is overreach without basic information about how often these orders are sought or granted, or who is gathering them. Even judges don’t know,” Kauffman said.