What is more at stake, our civil liberties or our security?
Last year 1,506 federal surveillance applications were submitted and approved.
Under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, court warrants grant the government broad authority to secretly monitor the electronic communications and physical search of persons engaged in espionage or international terrorism against the U.S on behalf of a foreign power.
Between 2009 and 2010, there was a 13 percent increase in government requests for these warrants, according to a report published recently by the Federation of American Scientists.
This increase amounted to 1,506 government applications for electronic surveillance, all of which were approved by the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, according to the report.
Because of such a nearly perfect approval rate, there is debate as to whether the approval is only a formality.
The report cited Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid who said the FISC did not deny even part of any application.
Reid is part of the 11-member court that did deny two of 1,329 applications for domestic-intelligence surveillance in 2009.
While it is curious why those two were denied, it should be questioned why all 1,506 were approved and what the grounds are for the application.
More controversial is the fact that the targets of these FISA warrants may never learn of the surveillance.
Conversely, targets of non-FISA warrants can dispute the warrants and the evidence gathered if it is used to prosecute.
Also according to the report, the FBI issued 24,287 national security letter requests last year on 14,212 people.
National security letters are written demands from the FBI that compel Internet service providers, credit companies, financial institutions and others to hand over confidential records about their customers, such as subscriber information, phone numbers and e-mail addresses, websites visited and more.
And anyone who gets a national security letter is prohibited from telling anyone else.
But, it this news? Has much changed since 2005?
That year, The New York Times exposed “Under the Terror Surveillance Program,” where the government was eavesdropping, without warrants, on the electronic communications of Americans if they were communicating with somebody overseas believed linked to terrorism.
What is the basis for someone overseas being linked to terrorism?
And if monitoring 1,500 individuals can prevent even one terrorist attack down the road, is it worth it?
Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and Annual Reports