Thursday, September 5, 2013

Maybe a Government That Constantly Violates Rights Is More Rotten Than We Realize

Maybe a Government That Constantly Violates Rights Is More Rotten Than We Realize

Why do records of phone calls matter? As the ACLU’s Catherine Crump notes, “While people may dispose of their phones, it’s much harder for people to change their lives. If Alice calls Bob twice a day and Carol every Sunday, Alice is likely to do that even if she switches phones. By analyzing calling patterns within the database, it’s possible to identify Alice’s new phone.” Tracking and recording the patterns of our lives is deeply revealing about who we are and how we live.

The Hemisphere database is searchable only through the issuance of a subpoena—an “administrative subpoena” that the DEA issues itself. If you’re thinking that’s not much of a safeguard, you’re probably in good company. At least, the feds seem to believe the public at large would find the program off-putting to the public at large. “All requestors are instructed to never refer to Hemisphere in any official document,” a slide given to the Times says. The program was revealed almost incidentally in the course of a lawsuit over federal infiltration of antiwar groups.

Imagine that. Yet another vast and creepy spy program is revealed in the course of a legal challenge to intrusive government targeting of peaceful political activists. That rabbit hole goes deep.