In fall 2014, the Electronic Frontier Foundation noted that some Patriot Act spy provisions put into place to catch terrorists were actually being used overwhelmingly by domestic law enforcement agencies. At the heart of the controversy were so-called “sneak-and-peek” powers which allowed federal law enforcement officials to quietly access information that would usually require a warrant.
EFF reported at the time:
Out of the 3,970 total requests from October 1, 2009 to September 30, 2010, 3,034 were for narcotics cases and only 37 for terrorism cases (about .9%). Since then, the numbers get worse. The 2011 report reveals a total of 6,775 requests. 5,093 were used for drugs, while only 31 (or .5%) were used for terrorism cases. The 2012 report follows a similar pattern: Only .6%, or 58 requests, dealt with terrorism cases. The 2013 report confirms the incredibly low numbers. Out of 11,129 reports only 51, or .5%, of requests were used for terrorism. The majority of requests were overwhelmingly for narcotics cases, which tapped out at 9,401 requests.
Now, after years of informally using the anti-terror tools for domestic investigations and instructing officers to lie about how they obtained evidence gathered via “sneak-and-peek,” the government no longer feels the need to hide its 4th Amendment abuses.
Late last month, The New York Times reported that the Obama administration had given the all-clear for intelligence gatherers across the vast federal law enforcement bureaucracy to share the NSA-gathered information in the open.
From the report:
Until now, National Security Agency analysts have filtered the surveillance information for the rest of the government. They search and evaluate the information and pass only the portions of phone calls or email that they decide is pertinent on to colleagues at the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other agencies. And before doing so, the N.S.A. takes steps to mask the names and any irrelevant information about innocent Americans.
The new system would permit analysts at other intelligence agencies to obtain direct access to raw information from the N.S.A.’s surveillance to evaluate for themselves. If they pull out phone calls or email to use for their own agency’s work, they would apply the privacy protections masking innocent Americans’ information — a process known as “minimization” …
While government officials maintain that their “minimization” procedures assure that Americans won’t be swept up in dragnet criminal investigations based on the content of their private communications, privacy advocates remain unconvinced.
On its Privacy SOS blog, the Massachusetts chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union reported bluntly:
What does this rule change mean for you? In short, domestic law enforcement officials will soon have access to even larger troves of American communications, obtained without warrants, that they can use to put people in cages…
FBI agents won’t need to have any ‘national security’ related reason to plug your name, email address, phone number, or other “selector” into the NSA’s gargantuan data trove. They could simply poke around in your private information in the course of totally routine investigations. And if they find something that suggests, say, involvement in illegal drug activity, they could send that information to local or state police. That means information the NSA collects for purposes of so-called ‘national security’ will be used by police to lock up ordinary Americans for routine crimes.
The liberty advocates say there are two things Americans can do to fight back: First, write your members of Congress and ask for a repeal of the Patriot Act Section 702 rules that allow this unconstitutional spying. And secondly, encrypt all your private communications now.