Hard as it is to believe, we now learn that the NSA may have actually violated the law relating to wiretapping “at least once.” This is accurate only in the sense that the entirety of the NSA’s activities from the moment of its founding to the present day constitute one enormous, continuous violation of the law. The NSA exists to violate the law in the service of the government of the day, whether that government is chasing the communiss, peaceniks, tree-huggers, towelheads, or journalists who hurt the government’s fee-fees and make it feel sad.
Even The Economist, more commonly observed making the case for the crucial importance of vampire squids to the world economy, is beginning to sound the alarm on the NSA’s data collection efforts:
A good general principle [for reforming American laws on data privacy] would be to afford data stored in a private e-mail account as much protection as letters stored in a locked desk drawer – that is, law-enforcement agencies wanting to get a look at them should need a warrant. … Metadata can now be amassed on a vast scale, and … deserves far more protections than it now receives … the ECPA [Electronic Communications Privacy Act] is almost impossible to apply consistently or fairly.
Some US elected officials are breaking ranks with the Obama administration to propose meaningful reforms. Representatives John Conyers (D-Mich) and Jerrold Nadler (D-NY)’s new ECPA Modernization Act would extend ECPA to cover data in the cloud, if it can make it out of committee; on the Senate side, Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Jon Tester (D-MT) introduced the Protect America’s Privacy Act to require warrants in order to spy on Americans’ communications, and to require surveillance to actually stop in the (unlikely) event that the FISA court rejects an application for a warrant. CREDO is running a petition campaign to support this legislation – add your name today!
Last, legal scholars are weighing in on how the rapid changes in technology are changing Fourth Amendment jurisprudence. Aglaia Ovtchinnikova provides an excellent overview of relevant precedent in “A Technologically Sensitive Amendment”; heavyweight legal scholars Christopher Slobogin and Orin Kerr heroically take on the messy “mosaic theory” of the Fourth Amendment following January’s split decision in U. S. v. Jones; and Paul Ohm calls for a “thorough reinvention” of the Fourth Amendment in order to prevent the advance of the surveillance state in “The Fourth Amendment in a World Without Privacy”.
[h/t: The Economist; FourthAmendment.com; Wired.com]