For those that aren’t aware, National Security Letters (NSLs) are these shady Orwellian instruments used by the FBI to spy on citizens without a warrant. The really creepy part about them is that you aren’t permitted to know if there is one out on you. It’s all one giant secret, you know, to get those terrorists. Well, Google has finally come out and given us some color on NSLs. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) gives us the scoop:
Of all the dangerous government surveillance powers that were expanded by the USA PATRIOT Act, the National Security Letter (NSL) power provided by five statutory provisions is one of the most frightening and invasive. These letters–the type served on communications service providers such as phone companies and ISPs and are authorized by 18 U.S.C. 2709–allow the FBI to secretly demand data about ordinary American citizens’ private communications and Internet activity without any prior judicial review. To make matters worse, recipients of NSLs are subject to gag orders that forbid them from ever revealing the letters’ existence to anyone.
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Don’t worry I’m sure the increase is certainly related to finding Al Qaeda in the U.S., as opposed to targeting domestic civil rights activists. I wonder how many of these requests were related to Aaron Swartz, the computer genius that federal prosecutors drove to suicide because they were still bitter about the role played in destroying SOPA. Or are the requests aimed at “far right” extremists, folks that can be identified according to West Point by their defense of “civil activism, individual freedoms and self-government.”
Once again, the EFF deserves our highest praise for bringing this info to us. From the EFF:
This morning, Google released their semi-annual transparency report, and once again, it revealed a troubling trend: Internet surveillance around the world continues to rise, with the United States leading the way in demands for user data.
Google received over 21,000 requests for data on over 33,000 users in the last six months from governments around the world, a 70% increase since Google started releasing numbers in 2010. The United States accounted for almost 40% the total requests (8,438) and the number of users (14,791). The total numbers in the US for 2012 amounted to a 33% increase from 2011. And while Google only complied with two-thirds of the total requests globally, they complied with 88% of the requests in the United States.
And the most troubling part?
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Edward Markey, a Representative from Massachusetts, has actually done some good for all of us by putting together a report on how aggressively law enforcement is spying on us via our cell phones. It’s the Wild, Wild West it seems when it comes to privacy these days as cell phone carriers admit they responded to 1.3 million demands for subscriber information last year. Remember back in 2006 when cell phone companies were sued for spying without warrants? They were given immunity back then. This is exactly what we get in return. Sprint now has 221 employees dedicated to processing and responding to government requests for its data, while AT&T has more than 100. It’s nice living in the land of the free!
In the first public accounting of its kind, cellphone carriers reported that they responded to a startling 1.3 million demands for subscriber information last year from law enforcement agencies seeking text messages, caller locations and other information in the course of investigations.
AT&T alone now responds to an average of more than 700 requests a day, with about 230 of them regarded as emergencies that do not require the normal court orders and subpoena. That is roughly triple the number it fielded in 2007, the company said. Law enforcement requests of all kinds have been rising among the other carriers as well, with annual increases of between 12 percent and 16 percent in the last five years. Sprint, which did not break down its figures in as much detail as other carriers, led all companies last year in reporting what amounted to at least 1,500 data requests on average a day.
Read the full article here.