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US is increasing use of warrantless wiretaps

Electronic surveillance is booming
Fri Sep 28 2012, 09:44

LAW ENFORCEMENT in the United States is indulging in a lot of wiretapping, more than it should be, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is calling for it to stop.

Documents released by the ACLU show that US federal law enforcement agencies are increasingly monitoring electronic communications and do so rather casually, without warrants.

The ACLU said it managed to get its hands on the documents after months of litigation, and says that telephone, email and internet communications are being monitored.

The most commonly used electronic surveillance methods are the pen register for incoming communications, and trap and trace devices for outgoing communications, and the ACLU said that the ability to record is built right into phone companies' call routing hardware.

Information taken includes phone numbers, to and from email addresses, records about instant messaging conversations and "non-content data" that relates to social messaging accounts.

In a two year period, 2009-2011, the number of orders for surveillance increased by 60 percent from 23,535 to 37,616 and the number of people whose phones were bugged tripled. Internet and email communications are the least monitored, but the number of those interceptions has spiked in the last year.

While this is bad, so is the apparent secrecy that surrounds it. The ACLU said that the US Justice Department had to be forced with a lawsuit to reveal the data. It said that there should be more oversight of who is using electronic surveillance and when they are using it.

The ACLU is supporting Congressman Jerrold Nadler's bill to amend, update and overhaul the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986

"Congressman Nadler's bill is an opportunity to apply meaningful oversight to the government's rapidly increasing use of a highly invasive surveillance power," it says. "These reforms are critical to protect our privacy and maintain an open and transparent government." µ


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