Archive for the 'Civil Liberties' Category
A three-judge panel of the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Thursday that the National Security Agency’s once-secret, bulk gathering of phone records of millions of Americans is illegal under the USA Patriot Act, the nation’s main counterterrorism law.
“The government takes the position that the metadata collected — a vast amount of which does not contain directly ‘relevant’ information, as the government concedes — are nevertheless ‘relevant’ because they may allow the NSA, at some unknown time in the future, utilizing its ability to sift through the trove of irrelevant data it has collected up to that point, to identify information that is relevant,” the court said, according to The Washington Post.
“We agree with appellants that such an expansive concept of ‘relevance’ is unprecedented and unwarranted.” Plaintiffs included the American Civil Liberties Union. Read more
“Ferguson, a city of 21,000, is unusual in some respects — it has issued the most warrants of any city in the state relative to its size, for example — but the unfairness in its court system that the Justice Department highlighted is not limited to it, to St. Louis County or even to Missouri.”
Offenses include using “police and courts as money making ventures,” racial bias in policing, and exchanges of racist emails, according to the New York Times. The report found that 85 percent of traffic stops and 93 percent of arrests over a two year period targeted the city’s black population. “A black motorist in Ferguson was twice as likely to be searched.. even though searches of whites turned up drugs and other contraband more often,” the article explains.
When President Obama announced on Friday a series of reforms to the National Security Agency’s phone record surveillance program, he also proposed a way for a public advocate to represent privacy and consumer interests in certain cases before the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
Obama proposed creating a panel comprised of advocates for civil liberty, technology and privacy interests, according to the Washington Post. The newspaper went on to summarize his proposal this way:
“Their job will be to represent Americans, but only when the FISA court faces ‘novel issues of law,’ according to a senior administration official. In other words, those advocates will become involved when the [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] court encounters a question or type of data it hasn’t dealt with before. But officials Friday weren’t clear about whether they would be called in by the court or if they could weigh in of their own volition.” Read more
President Obama is expected to call on Friday, in unveiling a package of proposed surveillance reforms, for establishing a public advocate to argue before the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court on behalf of privacy and civil liberty concerns.
However, in a letter this week, former FISC Chief Judge John Bates (photo) urged against creating such a public advocate, according to the New York Times, saying the advocate should rather be appointed when the court found it necessary.
“Given the nature of [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] proceedings, the participation of an advocate would neither create a truly adversarial process nor constructively assist the Courts in assessing the facts, as the advocate would be unable to communicate with the target or conduct an independent investigation,” Judge Bates said, according to Reuters. If there were broad participation in the court by a public advocate it could, he warned, “actually undermine the Courts’ ability to receive complete and accurate information on the matters before them.” Read moreNo comments
In order to better guard privacy and civil liberties, an Obama administration review group has recommended reforms involving the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which has been in the media spotlight this year.
- SELECTION: No longer would the United States Chief Justice have sole authority to appoint jurists to the secretive court. That authority would be divided up among all justices, who would be able to name one or two FISC judges from within the circuits each justice oversees.
- PUBLIC ADVOCATE: The reviewers recommended that FISC hear arguments not only from the Justice Department but also from a to-be created Public Advocate, whose job “would be to represent the interests of those whose rights of privacy or civil liberties might be at stake.” Read more
As the Senate Judiciary Committee convened a hearing on government surveillance programs, the American public got its first glance at a once-secret court order that approved massive government collection of telephone call data.
The order by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court “stipulates that a small number of analysts and supervisors are authorized to access the records for the limited purpose of matching them against phone numbers linked to terrorism,” according to a Los Angeles Times article.
The newly declassified document was among several released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. The order allowed government access to telephone logs if an official from the executive branch deems there are “facts giving rise to a reasonable, articulable suspicion” that a targeted number is linked with terrorism, the New York Times reported. Read moreNo comments
There’s no resolution in sight of the controversy over recent disclosures of sweeping government surveillance of Internet and phone data. But one certainty is this: the secretive federal court that is asked to approve extensive data-gathering is itself getting unusual, heightened scrutiny.
This weekend, the Washington Post weighed in with a front-page article entitled, “For secretive surveillance court, rare scrutiny in wake of [National Security Agency] leaks.” It reported that U.S. District Judge John Bates, a member of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, met with numerous senators earlier this month in a secure Washington meeting room at the Capitol, and was asked to discuss the court’s work.
The two-hour session with Judge Bates and two spy agency officials, the Post reported, “reflects a new and uncomfortable reality for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and its previously obscure members. Within the past month, lawmakers have begun to ask who the court’s judges are, what they do, why they have almost never declined a government surveillance request and why their work is so secretive.”
As part of the scrutiny, there is legislation seeking to shed sunlight on secret orders of the court, and there are requests for the Obama administration to make public summaries of the court’s opinions, at the least. Read moreNo comments
The secretive court getting new scrutiny in the wake of disclosures about government Internet and telephone data-gathering has counted 12 Republicans among its 14 judges this year, Reuters reports.
Yet judges of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court “also have issued orders in public cases that belie their conservative, law-enforcement roots, sometimes ruling against the government in terrorism-related cases,” Reuters says in its intriguing portrait of the members of the Washington, D.C.-based court.
The article includes comments by experts who question the bench’s diversity and the direction of its evolution over 35 years. The judges are chosen from trial courts around the country by the chief justice of the United States.
“Since [the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] was enacted in 1978, we’ve had three chief justices, and they have all been conservative Republicans, so I think one can worry that there is insufficient diversity,” Stephen Vladeck of American University’s Washington College of Law told Reuters. Read moreNo comments
Glenn Greenwald, who recently has reported disclosures about U.S. government Internet and telephone information-gathering, now turns his focus to the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in Washington and finds its purported oversight a “fig leaf.”
Drawing upon secret documents Greenwald says he has obtained, he writes in The Guardian that political leaders, journalists, and government officials say there are legal safeguards protecting Americans from certain warrantless surveillance, and these “claims are highly misleading, and in some cases, outright false.”
Under amendments in 2008 to existing foreign intelligence surveillance law, Greenwald writes, “no warrants are needed for the [National Security Agency] to eavesdrop on a wide array of calls, emails and online chats involving US citizens. Individualized warrants are required only when the target of the surveillance is a US person or the call is entirely domestic. Read moreNo comments