6 November 2005

Why Spy On Us?

This article, copied from Cut to the Chase, is worth quoting in its entirety. In her preface to the article, Katherine asks:

Seriously. Why? They can't catch the obvious suspects, so do they have to watch us just to have something to hold over our heads if we happen to catch them at something nasty and feel like reporting it to someone?

Remember: it's not paranoia if someone IS out to get you.



The FBI came calling in Windsor, Conn., this summer with a document marked for delivery by hand. On Matianuk Avenue, across from the tennis courts, two special agents found their man. They gave George Christian the letter, which warned him to tell no one, ever, what it said.

Under the shield and stars of the FBI crest, the letter directed Christian to surrender "all subscriber information, billing information and access logs of any person" who used a specific computer at a library branch some distance away. Christian, who manages digital records for three dozen Connecticut libraries, said in an affidavit that he configures his system for privacy. But the vendors of the software he operates said their databases can reveal the Web sites that visitors browse, the e-mail accounts they open and the books they borrow.

The FBI came calling in Windsor, Conn., this summer with a document marked for delivery by hand. On Matianuk Avenue, across from the tennis courts, two special agents found their man. They gave George Christian the letter, which warned him to tell no one, ever, what it said.

Christian refused to hand over those records, and his employer, Library Connection Inc., filed suit for the right to protest the FBI demand in public. The Washington Post established their identities -- still under seal in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit -- by comparing unsealed portions of the file with public records and information gleaned from people who had no knowledge of the FBI demand.

The Connecticut case affords a rare glimpse of an exponentially growing practice of domestic surveillance under the USA Patriot Act, which marked its fourth anniversary on Oct. 26. "National security letters," created in the 1970s for espionage and terrorism investigations, originated as narrow exceptions in consumer privacy law, enabling the FBI to review in secret the customer records of suspected foreign agents. The Patriot Act, and Bush administration guidelines for its use, transformed those letters by permitting clandestine scrutiny of U.S. residents and visitors who are not alleged to be terrorists or spies.

The FBI now issues more than 30,000 national security letters a year, according to government sources, a hundredfold increase over historic norms. The letters -- one of which can be used to sweep up the records of many people -- are extending the bureau's reach as never before into the telephone calls, correspondence and financial lives of ordinary Americans.

Issued by FBI field supervisors, national security letters do not need the imprimatur of a prosecutor, grand jury or judge. They receive no review after the fact by the Justice Department or Congress. The executive branch maintains only statistics, which are incomplete and confined to classified reports. The Bush administration defeated legislation and a lawsuit to require a public accounting, and has offered no example in which the use of a national security letter helped disrupt a terrorist plot.

3 comments:

CyberKitten said...

Truely frightening isn't it? I can't understand why there isn't more opposition to this sort of thing. Or are people afraid of appearing 'unpatriotic'?

It does seem that opposition parties and the judiciary have more sucess over here having just halted a new Anti-Terrorist Bill which will now probably have to be heavily amended before becoming Law (if it gets that far). The sticking point was a police request - backed by Tony Blair - to allow them to hold 'terror suspects' for upto 90 days without actually charging them with any crime.

Do we really need this sort of thing (along with all the covert & overt surveillence) to make us 'safe'? Isn't a '1984' style society the opposite of what we are supposedly trying to protect? It saddens me a great deal to think that the Deomocratic experiment might be dying. I do hope not.

Karlo said...

The disturbing thing about much of the surveillance is that it seems to be directed at people who clearly aren't terrorists. We recently had the case of the National Guard spying on a tiny group of elderly women protesting outside the California Capitol building. Then there's the case of a Federal Agent coming into a classroom and investigating a High School student who had created a High School project with a picture of Bush next to a "thumbs down" sign. And then there are the thousands of cases we never hear about. And never will.

CyberKitten said...

Karlo said: Then there's the case of a Federal Agent coming into a classroom and investigating a High School student who had created a High School project with a picture of Bush next to a "thumbs down" sign.

Yes... I remember reading about that on Alternet. Unbelievable! - but saddly true.

How can a Government be SO hypocritical that it SAYS is stands for Freedom & all the other good stuff & then blatently does things like that?

How is spying on its own citizens together will controlling what the see, do and are allowed to say help in the so-called 'War on Terror'..?

The Authorities on both sides of 'The Pond' keep saying that any restrictions on our liberties are both necessary & temporary... but where have we heard THAT before..?