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Why Is The FBI Withholding Privacy Reports About Its Spying Programs In The USA?

Yesterday, Jim noted that, despite promises of reforms of extraordinary spying powers created under the FISA Amendments Act, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has failed to create the position of Public Advocate that was recommended by a Presidential commission at the end of last year. The President’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies seems to have been appointed to create the appearance of the reform of extraordinary powers of governmental spying against Americans created under the Homeland Security regime. If there are enough stories about commissions recommending specific actions, many people begin to assume that some sort of concrete reform is actually taking place.

Another story in this area shows that a false appearance of accountability in spying programs isn’t limited to the FISA court. On Friday, the Electronic Privacy Information Center filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Federal Bureau of Investigation. EPIC is seeking information about the FBI’s spying programs in the United States that is supposed to have been made public, but never has been.

Under the E-Government Act the FBI is required to conduct privacy assessments of its programs that collect personal data in the course of its investigations in the United States. The FBI is then required to make these privacy assessments public.

EPIC has noted that, in defiance of the E-Government Act, the FBI has failed to provide the public with privacy assessments of many of its spying programs, including programs that use advanced electronic surveillance technology such as facial recognition, drones, and automatic license plate readers along American roadways. The EPIC lawsuit seeks to make these secret assessments public, as they are supposed to be.

The FBI’s practice of circumventing the process that is supposed to keep its spying ethical and in accord with Americans’ constitutional rights is just one example of the way that the federal government is defying efforts to rein in its Big Brother surveillance powers. Given this defiance, extreme action on the level of defunding spy agencies is called for.

Unfortunately, on the very same day EPIC filed its lawsuit, the U.S. House of Representatives made it clear that it intends to take no such strong action. Only 8 members of the House voted in opposition to continued funding of the NSA’s unreformed spy operations.

3 comments to Why Is The FBI Withholding Privacy Reports About Its Spying Programs In The USA?

  • Jack McCully

    I am a UK citizen, so this does not really affect me but I think a country`s security relies on spying. Innocent people are sure to be spied upon, but if they are innocent they should have nothing to fear.

    • J Clifford

      So, by that logic, Jack, we should allow the government to attach cameras to our foreheads showing everything that happens to us every minute of the day. Then, we’d all be super secure!

      We do have this much to fear from spying on innocent people: It’s a violation of our Constitution, which has an explicit prohibition on unreasonable search and seizure without a warrant. If the government can violate that part of the Constitution with impunity, what’s to stop it from stomping on our other civil rights… like the prohibition of slavery.

      Oh, but as long as our owners are innocent, we should have nothing to fear from our enslavement, right?

  • Bill

    Snowden’s documents demonstrate over and over again that British surveillance agency GCHQ works hand-in-glove with NSA. GCHQ does some of the work on U.S. citizens that NSA can’t get the approval for. And what do you suppose GCHQ gets in return? Hmmm…. Can you spell quid pro quo?

    It’s one big internet world now. If you’re inside the U.S. that doesn’t protect you, and if you’re outside the U.S. that doesn’t protect you, either.

    And among other fallacies, the “if you’re not doing anything wrong you have nothing to fear” argument implicitly assumes that the system works: bad guys get punished, and good guys are left alone. Shall we talk about what the Innocence Project, modern DNA testing technologies, and other things have revealed over the past few years regarding the numbers of innocent people wrongly convicted? If you’re not doing anything wrong then you do have something to fear…especially if you can’t get a fair trial because the evidence is ‘classified.’ Do you really want your kids to live in a world where governments (and only governments) have access to everything everyone thinks or does? Hey, what could possibly go wrong?

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