Disturbing news about the huge extent of government spying against Americans’ private activities using electronic communications networks is coming out so quickly these days that it’s difficult to keep track. This week alone, we’ve learned that over the last year, government spy agencies issued 8 million requests for GPS data from just one wireless company about the movement of people in the United States and that the Department of Homeland Security coordinated a massive spying effort targeting dissent and protest related to the 2008 Democratic National Convention.
Yesterday, another piece of news about government surveillance came from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which reported that it has, in coordination with other organizations, filed a lawsuit attempting to force the Obama Administration to reveal government policies about spying on activity on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. EFF had registered Freedom of Information Act requests, which the Obama Administration is required by law to respond to, in the very least to explain why the requests are denied. Many of the agencies where the requests were made refused to respond at all.
Why is the Obama Administration trying to keep secret government policies about spying on Americans’ activities on Facebook and other social networking sites? What does Obama have to hide? Don’t we Americans, under the Fourth Amendment, have a reasonable right to know whether we can expect government spies to be searching and seizing our personal information when we engage in social networking activities?
If the EFF lawsuit succeeds, we may gain answers to these questions. Unfortunately, the courts and the Obama White House have so far succeeded in blocking the organization’s lawsuits from moving forward. Obama, like George W. Bush before him, has claimed the power to stop any lawsuit, merely by asserting, without evidence, that some kind of state secret is put at risk.
It feels like a long time now since Barack Obama promised us a new era of government openness and an end to excessive government secrecy.