ACLU Forces Government to Reveal Skyrocketing Surveillance Stats_Featured_, Big Brother Wednesday, October 3rd, 2012
(ARSTechnica) Statistics obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union provides additional evidence that government surveillance of Americans has skyrocketed in recent years. The government is legally obligated to release reports about its surveillance activities, but it refused to do so until the ACLU sued to compel the production of the documents.
The reports concern what lawyers call “pen register” and “trap and trace” records. These terms originally referred to hardware devices law enforcement could attach to the phone network to capture information about (but not the contents of) phone calls. Pen registers recorded outgoing phone numbers. Trap and trace devices recorded incoming phone numbers.
Today’s telephone networks have the ability to capture this information without any special equipment. And the government has expanded the concept to include other forms of communication such as email.
The legal standard for conducting this kind of non-content surveillance is less stringent than the rules for conducting a wiretap. To get a wiretap order, the government must convince a judge that it is essential to an investigation, but pen registers must merely be “relevant” to an investigation to obtain the approval of a judge.
The statistics uncovered by the ACLU show a striking increase in the frequency of government surveillance. Here is the number of orders issued by the government over the last 12 years…