Our Surveillance State

"Nine years after the terrorist attacks of 2001, the United States is assembling a vast domestic intelligence apparatus to collect information about Americans, using the FBI, local police, state homeland security offices and military criminal investigators.

The system, by far the largest and most technologically sophisticated in the nation's history, collects, stores and analyzes information about thousands of U.S. citizens and residents, many of whom have not been accused of any wrongdoing.

The government's goal is to have every state and local law enforcement agency in the country feed information to Washington to buttress the work of the FBI, which is in charge of terrorism investigations in the United States." -- Monitoring America, Washington Post 12/20/10

September 12, 2012: FISA Amendments Act passes House
The House voted 301-118 to extend the warrantless wiretap bill for another 5 years (final vote tally is here). The Senate is likely to vote on the measure during the lameduck session in November. DDF and other civil liberties groups had strongly opposed the bill, which allows the National Security Agency to intercept communications of Americans without a warrant.

Congress passed the FAA (FISA Amendments Act) in 2008, in effect legalizing President Bush's controversial warrantless wiretap program. Four years later, we know almost nothing about how the FAA has been implemented or about the scope of the surveillance that's being conducted under the Act.

And what we do know raises serious concerns...

- the NSA intercepts 1.7 billion emails, phone calls and other communications every single day (Washington Post, 7/19/2010)
- the NSA says it cannot even give a rough estimate of the number of Americans whose communications have been swept up (Wired.com, 6/18/2012)
- the NSA has reportedly overstepped the bounds of this very lax law, intercepting private emails and phone calls of Americans illegally (New York Times, 4/16/2009)
- all those communications are stored on a searchable database, allowing the government to get information on specific Americans without any suspicion that they have committed a crime (Huffington Post, 9/6/2012)

In spite of these concerns and others, the House reauthorized the program without adding any safeguards or doing any oversight.

Read more about the House debate, and the FISA Amendments Act here.

August 27, 2012: PCLOB At Last!
On August 27, four out of five members of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board were finally sworn in, so the board can finally begin to address the privacy and civil liberties implications of national security policies and programs. DDF is especially pleased that one of the members of the board is our long time Vice-President, James X. Dempsey. Jim is a champion of civil liberties and privacy and as a member of our board, he’s has been insightful, supportive and has graciously shared his wisdom and expertise – perhaps most importantly as the author, with David Cole, of Terrorism and the Constitution.

It has taken too long for the PCLOB to come into being. The 9/11 Commission recommended the creation of an oversight board, and one was briefly convened in 2004. In 2007, Congress passed legislation strengthening the board, but it wasn’t until this year that a full slate of nominees was sent to the senate. Early in August, the Senate approved the nominations of four of the five members of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, but refused to consider the nomination of David Medine as the Board chair, which will impede the board’s work.

As he steps up to the PCLOB, Jim has stepped down from the DDF Board of Directors. We’re sorry to see him go, and are indebted to him for his leadership. Help us celebrate Jim’s tremendous contribution to civil liberties and to the Defending Dissent Foundation! Make a donation of $15 or more to DDF and we will be pleased to send a copy of Terrorism and the Constitution.

August 25, 2011: DDF, Allies Nudge Obama on PCLOB
DDF, along with a coalition of 18 other organizations and individuals, sent a letter to President Obama urging him to nominate individuals to the remaining three positions on the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) without further delay. The board should play a vital, independent role in oversight of privacy and civil liberties for national security programs and policies -- but it has been dormant for years. DDF Board Vice President James Dempsey was nominated to the PCLOB last year. Read the letter here. A Washington Times story and a CBS talk radio show featured commentary about this issue.

August 5, 2011: ICE Announces that Secure Communities is NOT Optional
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) declared today that states and localities are NOT allowed to opt-out of the controversial Secure Communities program. ICE expects the program, which forces local police to share fingerprint information with ICE, to become fully operational in every district of the country by 2013. Read our response (as a member of the Rights Working Group) here

May 6, 2011: DOJ Report Shows Dramatic Increase in Domestic Surveillance in 2010
According to a new Department of Justice report, domestic surveillance activity increased last year. A few numbers: the FBI sought information about over 14,000 U.S. persons using over 24,000 National Security Letters. The Government made over 1,500 requests for surveillance to the FISA court. None of these requests were denied.

Steven Aftergood, a secrecy expert at the Federation for American Scientists notes, "While the 2010 figures are below the record high levels of a few years ago, they are considerably higher than they were, say, a decade ago. There is no indication that intelligence oversight activity and capacity have grown at the same rate," (my emphasis).



Fusion Center Documents

Virginia 2009 Threat Assesment
Beware of Boy and Girl Scouts conducting 'get out the vote' drives! The Virginia Fusion Center 2009 Terrorism Threat Assessment warns that they may have links to terrorism1. Scout troops are among the many worrisome features of life in Virginia that folks at the Fusion Center think may present an opportunity for terrorists. There are universities ("recognized as a radicalization node for almost every type of extremist group"), a diverse population ("affords terrorist operatives the opportunity to assimilate easily into society") and politically extreme groups, such as the New Black Panther Party, Nation of Islam, Life & Liberty Ministries, Greenpeace and Blue Ridge Earth First. Strikingly, most of the threats uncovered by the fusion center are based on political ideology or race, religion or country of origin. Read more…

Read the full Terrorism Threat Assesment Report

Missouri Report
Another disturbing Fusion Center memo has come to light, this time from the Missouri Information Analysis Center, a fusion center established in 2005. "The Modern Militia Movement" educates Missouri law enforcement agents on the recent history of the militia movement including criminal activities, but goes on to try to help law enforcement to identify members of militias based on political affiliation and advocacy. Read more…

Surveillance Word of the Month

July 2011

National Security Letters:
The National Security Letter provision of the Patriot Act radically expanded the FBI's authority to demand personal customer records from Internet Service Providers, financial institutions and credit companies without prior court approval. Through NSLs the FBI can compile vast dossiers about innocent people and obtain sensitive information such as the websites a person visits, a list of e-mail addresses with which a person has corresponded, or even unmask the identity of a person who has posted anonymous speech on a political website. The provision also allows the FBI to forbid or "gag" anyone who receives an NSL from telling anyone about the record demand. Since the Patriot Act was authorized in 2001, further relaxing restrictions on the FBI's use of the power, the number of NSLs issued has seen an astronomical increase. The Justice Department's Inspector General has reported that between 2003 and 2006, the FBI issued nearly 200,000 NSLs. The inspector General has also found serious FBI abuses of the NSL power. – From the ACLU website


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