Electronic Communications Surveillance

Electronic Communications Surveillance

“I think you’re misunderstanding the perceived problem here, Mr. President. No one is saying you broke any laws. We’re just saying it’s a little bit weird that you didn’t have to.”—John Oliver on The Daily Show

The government is collecting information on millions of citizens. Phone, Internet, and email habits, credit card and bank records—virtually all information that is communicated electronically is subject to the watchful eye of the state. The government is even building a nifty, 1.5 million square foot facility in Utah to house all of this data. With the recent exposure of the NSA’s PRISM program by whistleblower Edward Snowden, many people—especially activists—are wondering: How much privacy do we actually have? Well, as far as electronic privacy, the short answer is: None. None at all. There are a few ways to protect yourself, but ultimately, nothing in electronic communications is absolutely protected.

In the United States, surveillance of electronic communications is governed primarily by the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 (ECPA), which is an extension of the 1968 Federal Wiretap act (also called “Title III”) and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Other legislation, such as the USA PATRIOT Act and the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), supplement both the ECPA and FISA.

The ECPA is divided into three broad areas: wiretaps and “electronic eavesdropping,” stored messages, and pen registers and trap-and-trace devices. Each degree of surveillance requires a particular burden that the government must meet in order to engage in the surveillance. The highest burden is in regards to wiretaps.

Read the rest of the newest article written by CLDC executive director, Lauren Regan, at monthlyreview.org: Electronic Communications Surveillance.

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