Please read this excellent article by Jody Westby. I had the opportunity to talk with her in March 2012, her knowledge, her intuition, her experience and her deep and quick wit are an absolute joy to behold. I believe this article has the potential of causing a deep and searing examination of our national security apparatus. The link to the actual article is at the bottom.
The Sheep Stop Here: Another Church Committee or Full Review of Privacy Laws Needed?
by Jody Westby
During the early 1970s, the infamous Church Committee investigated abuses of power by the CIA and FBI, including their spying on U.S. citizens for political purposes and intercepting, opening, and photographing more than 215,000 pieces of mail. Mark Benjamin, in a 2007 Salon article reported that, “CIA agents moved mail to a private room to do the dirty work or in some cases opened envelopes at night after stuffing them in briefcases or even coat pockets to deceive postal officials.”
After 9/11, some blamed the U.S.’s lack of human intelligence capabilities to counter terrorist activities on the reforms enacted following the Church Committee’s reports. Perhaps, but over-correction is often the outcome in Washington. Congress may have gone too far in reining in intelligence activities, but the abuses of power detailed in the fourteen Church Committee reports were chilling. The reports gave the American public its first in-depth look at U.S. intelligence gathering activities through more than 50,000 unclassified pages,. It offered the lesson that power exercised in secrecy is bound to be abused.
Now, nearly 40 years later, it may be time for another Congressional Committee’s review of U.S. law enforcement and intelligence activities against the limits of the rule of law. At a bare minimum, when the 113th Congress convenes in January, 2013, it needs to conduct a full review of privacy laws and protections for civil liberties against the government collection of and access to communications data.
Some legal basics here are helpful. Some laws restrict government access to information. Title 50 of the U.S. legal code prohibits the U.S. government from conducting intelligence activities against domestic persons. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) sets forth procedures for the surveillance and collection of foreign intelligence information. The Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) strictly prohibits the interception of content and traffic data and limits access to stored communications (such as emails). ECPA is intended to protect the privacy of communications and strictly limits what intercepted communications data may be obtained by or disclosed to a “governmental entity” by a “provider to the public,” such as AT&T, Verizon, AOL, or Comcast, and requires a court order. Other laws allow government access to information. The USA PATRIOT Act expanded the purpose of National Security Letters (NSL) to allow government agencies to use them to request any data relevant to an investigation of terrorism or an intelligence activity without court oversight. Recipients of a NSL are prohibited from notifying the person whose information is being requested. NSLs reportedly have been used by the FBI, DHS, DoD, and CIA.
- The Sheep Stop Here: Another Church Committee or Full Review of Privacy Laws Needed? (forbes.com)
- Political assassinations in the US ‘April, 1976: Church Committee Reports on Domestic Surveillance and Other Illegal Activities by US Intelligence Agencies’ (lissakr11humanelife.wordpress.com)
- Email Privacy Law Going Before Senate Committee Today (webpronews.com)
- Church Committee: Reports – Book II (lissakr11humanelife.wordpress.com)
- Church Committee: Reports – Book III (lissakr11humanelife.wordpress.com)
- Senate Judiciary to Take Up Privacy Legislation (techdailydose.nationaljournal.com)
- On Privacy (nplusonemag.com)
- It’s time to reformat data privacy for the 21st century, but does Congress want the upgrade? (theverge.com)