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.