Rapid Increase in US Electronic Surveillance
The United States government has revealed information about the Justice Department’s use of warrantless internet and telephone surveillance of American citizens (known as “pen register” and “trap and trace” records). And even though they are legally required to do so, the documents were not released until the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit with a Freedom of Information Act claim:
Pen registers obtain, in real time, non-content information of outbound telephone and internet communications, such as phone numbers dialed, and the sender and recipient (and sometimes subject line) of an e-mail message. A trap-and-trace acquires the same information, but for inbound communications to a target. These terms originally referred to hardware devices law enforcement could attach to the phone network to capture information about (but not the contents of) phone calls.
Today’s telephone networks have the ability to capture this information without any special equipment. And the government has expanded the concept to include other forms of communication such as email.
The legal standard for conducting this kind of non-content surveillance is less stringent than the rules for conducting a wiretap. To get a wiretap order, the government must convince a judge that it is essential to an investigation, but judges are required to sign off on pen register orders when the authorities say the information is relevant to an investigation. No probable-cause warrant is needed to obtain the data.
“Because these surveillance powers are not used to capture telephone conversations or the bodies of emails, they are classified as ‘non-content’ surveillance tools, as opposed to tools that collect ‘content,’ like wiretaps,” Naomi Gilens of the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project explains. “This means that the legal standard that law enforcement agencies must meet before using pen registers is lower than it is for wiretaps and other content-collecting technology.”
The statistics uncovered by the ACLU show a striking increase in the frequency of government surveillance. Here is the number of orders issued by the government over the last 12 years:
also telling the whole world you are eating spaghetti with a spoon doesn’t help much. tbh.