Maybe Congress Doesn’t Want Constituents to Know Surveillance Has Spiked Under Obama?

The ACLU sued the government to get it to release the reports on how much DOJ has used Pen Registers and Trap and Trace devices to get criminal suspects’ phone and email call records.

The records show a sharp increase in the use of PR/TT requests. Of particularly note, three times as many people have had their records turned over to DOJ under Obama.

In its post on the topic, ACLU notes that whereas, under Bush, neither Congress nor the public were getting these records, Obama’s Administration has submitted the reports in timely fashion, but Congress has not released the reports.

When no reports surfaced in 2010 and 2011, the ACLU filed a FOIA request to obtain them. After our request received no response, we filed suit to enforce it.

Although the Justice Department has in the past repeatedly failed to submit the annual reports to Congress, it appears that it has now cleaned up its act. Both the 2010 and 2011 reports were submitted to Congress in compliance with the reporting requirement. Unfortunately, Congress has done nothing at all to inform the public about the federal government’s use of these invasive surveillance powers. Rather than publishing the reports online, they appear to have filed them away in an office somewhere on Capitol Hill.

This is unacceptable. Congress introduced the pen register reporting requirement in order to impose some transparency on the government’s use of a powerful surveillance tool. For democracy to function, citizens must have access to information that they need to make informed decisions—information such as how and to what extent the government is spying on their private communications. Our representatives in Congress know this, and created the reporting requirement exactly for this reason.

It shouldn’t take a FOIA lawsuit by the ACLU to force the disclosure of these valuable reports. There is nothing stopping Congress from releasing these reports, and doing so routinely. They could easily be posted online, as the ACLU has done today.

Of course, Congress didn’t require DOJ to share this information with actual citizens; it only required DOJ share the information with Congress. Republicans have no incentive to turn over records that show Obama’s DOJ has investigated crime (in particularly the drug trafficking these records are most often used to investigate) more aggressively than Bush did. And Democrats have no incentive to show their President has trampled privacy. And given the likelihood these records are being used in creative new ways, neither party has an incentive giving people more reason to question how PR/TT are being used (I’ve long noted that their used started to rise after Bush’s illegal wiretap program got exposed, and suspect there may be a connection).

In short, Congress is complicit in hiding the extent to which increasing numbers of Americans are being surveilled by the government.

But that shouldn’t be a surprise at this point.

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10 Responses to Maybe Congress Doesn’t Want Constituents to Know Surveillance Has Spiked Under Obama?

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Emptywheel Twitterverse
JimWhiteGNV LSU up by one in ninth, two outs. Batter hits ball, left fielder dives & misses. All Anerican shortstop tries to bail him out, sits on ball.
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emptywheel @Thomas_Drake1 Don't think it's to shift narrative. It's to lead us to believe they're going to end phone dragnettery in June. @BradMossEsq
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JimWhiteGNV At this point, no reporter should ever interview Rick Pitino without a clove of garlic and wooden stake at the ready.
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emptywheel @CasparBowden I suspect one big issue is doing dragnetty things usable w/smart devices, which is more 702-like production. @korch
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emptywheel @CasparBowden No. But extant OLC memo says NSA can do it w/voluntary production. Just need to get "voluntary" compliance @korch
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emptywheel @manish_vij They only like to use stolen certs overseas. Rule of law and all that. @csoghoian
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emptywheel @csoghoian Besides the obvious lawsuit, but...
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emptywheel @csoghoian So that could be the gap? Why not roll out a 215 dragnet for tech companies when they moved over NSLs? To punish them!
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emptywheel @csoghoian So could telecoms get to that via something other than backbone under the USAF model?
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emptywheel @mattblaze @ncweaver @csoghoian Going back to cells going dark in phone dragnet: how much of chats/texts bypass telecom backbones now?
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emptywheel @AllThingsHLS You woman doesn't get pissed when you make her miss football? Jeebus. That's odd.
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JimWhiteGNV Breaking: ticks on horses are gross. http://t.co/mXuUbXGG08
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