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
emptywheel RT @avilarenata: Theresa May in UK, using anti terrorism excuse, wants a requirement for ISPs to retain data on IPs to identify users. http…
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emptywheel @stevenzzhou NSA only deleted the massive dragnet after 5 years, but has--and will--keep those chained indefinitely.
2mreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz @JustADCohen @stltoday And half expected McCulloch would welch on that.
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emptywheel @stevenzzhou Once someone is chained, they may be held indefinitely. USAF prolly would lead to MORE USPs being held like that, bc broader.
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bmaz @JustADCohen @stltoday I guess, but it was a patently absurd statement. I never took his word for anything more than he would ask.
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emptywheel An excellent time to escalate a second war, right when GOPers famous for not paying their bills take over.
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emptywheel @stevenzzhou Remember Section 215 is used for other things as well, notably financial records. They'd still be available in bulk.
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emptywheel @stevenzzhou Yes, at the individual level, rather than the programmatic level (tho JUST for phone records). Definitely better on that front.
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bmaz RT @JustADCohen: Court's reaction to prosecutor here is telling, shows disconnect, presages huge fight over records. http://t.co/FmLcHFvb3v
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bmaz @JustADCohen How could the court do that before the GJ concludes and challenges and protective motion time given? @stltoday
13mreplyretweetfavorite
emptywheel @YousefMunayyer Dunno. This is going to be someone signing big contracts w/lots of contractors. Sounds like great way to get rich.
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bmaz .@JustADCohen Why did anybody ever believe the court had already agreed to release of GJ material? @stltoday
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