Jul 16, 2013

Challenging Secret Surveillance

Have you ever signed a petition in opposition to a political cause? Have you ever been to a political rally or protest, to make your voice heard? Are you a member of a group that advocates a social or political point of view?

If so, the government probably has a file on you.

What might be in that file? Is it correct? Could it prevent you from getting a good job, a loan, or might it lead to the FBI showing up on your doorstep one day?

An IT specialist named Clayton Howard wanted to find out. He filed a Freedom Of
Information Act request with the NSA, who responded, in short, that he was not entitled to any information the NSA might have on him. The NSA rejects pretty much every such request it receives (source: Tikkun Daily)

Attempts to sue the government for compiling dossiers on innocent citizens has been met with a Catch-22. The government's top lawyer argued before the Supreme Court that groups challenging the surveillance law had no reason to think their communications were being collected, so therefore they had no standing to sue. However, he specifically argued before the High Court that subjects of the surveillance would have standing to challenge the law if the information was used against them.

In other words, unless you think you're being watched by the government, you can't challenge the law, but if you are being watched by the government, you can challenge.

Has this actually happened? Hardly.

The promised disclosures have not been made, and the government has fiercely resisted any attempt to challenge the 2008 surveillance law, invoking the State Secrets defense. Not surprisingly, government attorneys using the law have not been willing to discuss the contradiction, which deprives citizens of their due process rights. (source: A Secret Surveillance Program Proves Challengeable in Theory Only, New York Times 7/15/13).

Belatedly, Congress is starting to challenge the Obama administration about this, demanding that the surveillance be scaled back, reacting to the global outrage these programs have spawned. (source: Bipartisan Backlash Grows Against Domestic Surveillance, New York Times, 7/17/13), and Lawmakers of both parties voice doubts about NSA surveillance programs, Washington Post, 7/17) 

Thanks to Edward Snowden, who exposed the government's wildly out of control surveillance of almost every American citizen, challenges to such surveillance have a slightly better chance in the courts, although the government continues to fiercely resist any kind of oversight or due process. We now know for sure how much information is being collected, and groups such as the ACLU and the EFF are fighting back, trying to restore a measure of balance to people whose rights are being violated (source: Snowden’s surveillance leaks open way for challenges to programs’ constitutionality, The Washington Post 7/15/2013)

These are your rights at stake. Help support them, or you may find you no longer have them.

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