Wednesday, August 21, 2002

just how much domestic spying is going on?

An expedited Freedom of Information Act request (pdf) was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) today, asking the Department of Justice a number of questions about the "pervasiveness of domestic spying." They were joined in making the request by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression(ABFFE).

I think that this is an important request. It's information that we should know. As the ABFFE states in their June 21st update on their web site:
The Sensenbrenner/Conyers letter, asks Ashcroft questions about how the Justice Department is implementing 50 provisions of the PATRIOT Act, With respect to the business records section of the act, it asks how many court orders have been issued to bookstores, libraries and newspapers. (Reporters' notes can also be subpoenaed under the PATRIOT Act even if they are protected by state "shield laws" designed to protect their confidentiality.) The letter also asks whether the Justice Department has put in place any safeguards like requiring supervisory approval before the records are sought or "requiring a determination that the information is essential to an investigation and could not be obtain through any other means."
There was a limited response from the DOJ to Congress from those 50 questions. It's possible that Congress will subpoena Attorney General Ashcroft if more answers aren't forthcoming by Labor Day weekend.

The types of information that the FOIA request is asking about includes how many times the government has:
Conducted "sneak and peek" searches, which allow law enforcement to enter people's homes and search their belongings without informing them until long after;

Directed a library, bookstore or newspaper to produce "tangible things," e.g, the titles of books an individual has purchased or borrowed or the identity of individuals who have purchased or borrowed certain books;

Authorized the use of devices to trace the telephone calls or e-mails of people who are not suspected of any crime;

Investigated American citizens and permanent legal residents and sought information on the basis of activities protected by the First Amendment (e.g., writing a letter to the editor or attending a rally).
I understand that it has to be difficult to conduct a domestic war on terrorism under a microscope. But I'm worried about living under a government that would refuse to answer those types of questions.

No comments: