So. The Patriot Act turned 10 on Wednesday, October 26, 2011. And all we got were violations of our civil liberties. Well, that and this really awesome infographic, which contains information like this fun fact: Did you know that under the relaxed National Security Letter (NSL) standards in the Patriot Act, between 2003 and 2005, the FBI issued 143,074 NSLs, and reported a big, whopping zero terrorism prosecutions as a result? Zero, zilch, none, nada.
So what was the FBI using their shiny, new terrorism-fighting-intelligence-gathering powers for? Well, they did refer 17 criminal money laundering cases, 17 immigration-related cases, and 19 fraud cases. And the other 143,021 NSLs? Well, thanks to the gag order that accompanies them, the innocent people whose personal information was sought from third parties will never know.
ACLU Blog of Rights Post [Familiar Story: CIA Destroys More Tapes] (March 2, 2009):
"Back in December 2007, we learned that the CIA had destroyed two videotapes depicting the "harsh interrogation" of two detainees in U.S. custody. This morning, we learned ... the CIA has actually destroyed 92 tapes. Those tapes are directly responsive to the ACLU’s October 2003 Freedom of Information Act request asking the government to release all documents and information pertaining to the treatment of detainees held in U.S. custody overseas."
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a remarkable tool. On Wednesday, January 21st, President Obama published a memorandum for the Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies on the broad topic of FOIA at the White House Briefing Room:
"A democracy requires accountability, and accountability requires transparency. As Justice Louis Brandeis wrote, "sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants." In our democracy, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which encourages accountability through transparency, is the most prominent expression of a profound national commitment to ensuring an open Government. At the heart of that commitment is the idea that accountability is in the interest of the Government and the citizenry alike..."
Last Wednesday was a pretty dark day for me and millions of other constitution-loving people when Congress passed the the FISA Amendments Act that included retroactive immunity for US telecommunications companies who'd participated in the Bush administration's illegal warrantless wiretapping program of US citizens.
Well, a little ray of sunshine just broke through those dark clouds when, according to Threat Level (Wired News blog), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed suit Thursday (along with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)), challenging the constitutionality of the act. The ACLU contends (.pdf) that the expanded spying power violates the Constitution's prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures.
In September 2007, the Inspector General of the Justice Department reported that the Terrorist Screening Center had over 700,000 names in its database as of April 2007 - and that the list was growing by an average of over 20,000 records per month. At that rate, the number of names in the database would exceed 1,000,000 names by the end of July, 2008.
The ACLU launched a watch list counter showing the number of new names supposedly added each day to the list, as well as a number of well-known people who have been put on the list.
Go to the FBI's Terrorist Screening Center FAQ to learn who gets included in the TSDB and whether or not you can find out if you are in it (hint: you can't).
Today, Siobhan Gorman of The Wall Street Journal reported that the National Security Agency has assembled what some intelligence officials admit is a driftnet for domestic and foreign communications. According to Gorman: into the NSA's massive database goes data collected by the Justice Department, Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Treasury. This information includes data about email (recipient and sender address, subject, time sent), internet searches (sites visited and searches conducted), phone calls (incoming and outgoing numbers, length of call, location), financial information (wire transfers, credit-card use, information about bank accounts), and information from the DHS about airline passengers.
The only problem is, the Total Information Awareness Program (TIA) was supposed to have been killed by Congress in 2003. The ACLU responded to the report and said it would be filing a FOIA request to get more information.
The American Civil Liberties Union responded today to a stunning new report that the NSA has effectively revived the Orwellian ""Total Information Awareness"" domestic-spying program that was banned by Congress in 2003. In response, the ACLU said that it was filing a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for more information about the spying. And, the group announced that it was moving its "Surveillance Clock" one minute closer to midnight.
"Congress shut down TIA because it represented a massive and unjustified governmental intrusion into the personal lives of Americans,” said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the Washington Legislative Office of the ACLU. “Now we find out that the security agencies are pushing ahead with the program anyway, despite that clear congressional prohibition. The program described by current and former intelligence officials in Monday's Wall Street Journal could be modeled on Orwell’s Big Brother."
The ACLU said the new report confirmed its past warnings that the NSA was engaging in extremely broad-based data mining that was violating the privacy of vast numbers of Americans.