Federal Agencies Routinely Spy On Phone Calls, Texts, Emails Of American Citizens, Experts Say

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by Tyler Durden
Thursday, Jun 15, 2023 - 01:00 AM

Authored by Kevin Stocklin via The Epoch Times (emphasis ours),

Despite the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment, which prohibits warrantless government searches, U.S. agencies are proving to be ever more intrusive in their routine surveillance of Americans’ speech and activities.

The headquarters of the FBI is seen in Washington, D.C. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Often working in collaboration with private companies and banks, agencies like the FBI have been misusing laws against foreign terrorism to vacuum up and sift through the private data of millions of Americans without a warrant or any evidence of a crime.

As Congress now debates reauthorizing relevant sections of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) that are set to expire this year, the libertarian Cato Institute held a four-day conference last week, which featured calls for major legal reforms by conservative and liberal speakers alike.

“The violations that we’ve seen have not just been epic in scale, but they’ve also been persistent, over and over again,” Jake Laperruque, a deputy director at the Center for Democracy and Technology, told attendees.

“To put a human scale on this, what we’re talking about is not just random typos or wrong clicks; we’re looking at things like pulling up batches of thousands of political donors in one go, without any suspicion of wrongdoing,” Laperruque said. “We’ve had reports of journalists, political commentators, a domestic political party; these compliance violations are the most worrisome type of politically focused surveillance.”

In 2001, Congress passed the PATRIOT Act as a means to combat foreign terrorism after the Sept. 11 attacks. In 2008, Congress added an amendment to FISA, Section 702, which authorized warrantless surveillance of non-U.S. persons located outside the country. This amendment, which critics say is the source of much of the abuse, is scheduled to “sunset” on Dec. 31.

Evidence of Abuse

Congressional debates about whether to renew Section 702 are coming amid numerous reports that the FBI and other federal intelligence agencies have abused the surveillance authority granted to them by this law. Critics say there is mounting evidence that federal agencies have been using laws, which were intended to target foreign terrorists, to conduct extensive, long-term domestic spying campaigns on U.S. citizens.

“To prevent Section 702 from being used as an end run around [Fourth Amendment] protections, Congress did two things: It required the government to minimize the collection, sharing and retention of Americans’ personal information … and it required the government to certify to the FISA court on an annual basis that it is not using Section 702 to try to access the communications of particular known Americans,” Elizabeth Goitein, a senior director at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, told conference attendees.

What has become abundantly clear over the last 15 years is that these protections are not working,” Goitein said. “All agencies that receive Section 702 data have procedures in place, approved by the FISA court, that allow them to run electronic searches … for the purpose of finding and retrieving the phone calls, text messages and emails of Americans.”

A report by the Brennan Center for Justice states that “since 2006, the National Security Agency (NSA) has been secretly collecting the phone records of millions of Americans from some of the largest telecommunications providers in the United States, via a series of regularly renewed requests by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).”

In addition, the report states that “over the past six years, the NSA has obtained unprecedented access to the data processed by nine leading U.S. internet companies. This was facilitated by a computer network named PRISM. The companies involved include Google, Facebook, Skype, and Apple.”

Rise of Data Brokers

Speaking to attendees of the Cato Institute conference, Nathan Wessler, a director at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), detailed “the rise of data brokers” that assemble enormous databases of photo IDs that they then sell to law enforcement for profit.

“Many companies are selling face recognition algorithms to government and private industry buyers,” Wessler said. “That might be state driver’s license photos, arrest photos, federal passport photos.

And then there’s another company, ClearView AI, which has been scouring the internet for billions of photos,” he said. “The last I heard, they had a database of 30 billion photos of people from social media, from employer websites, from local newspapers, and anywhere else on the internet where there’s a photo that might be attached to a name, building giant databases of face prints extracted from those photos, and selling that to police departments and other law enforcement around the country.”

This, Wessler said, “presents a truly unprecedented ability for the government to instantaneously identify anyone in any situation and then take action without usually any kind of court oversight, and often in tremendous secrecy.”

“We have legacy photo data sets of almost all of us,” said Clare Garvie, counsel at the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. “As a practical matter, most of us are in numerous of these, and they’ve been almost instantaneously turned into biometric data sets.”

According to Garvie, the collection of these biometric data sets by law enforcement started around 2001, and has been expanding ever since.

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