In the 20 months since the September 2001 terrorist attacks, civil libertarians have had two overarching complaints about the federal government’s surveillance regime: the breadth of its powers and the secrecy of its capabilities. Now the latter criticism may be changing. Under sustained pressure from privacy advocates within Congress, the legislative branch has forced the federal executive branch to account for the details of its technologies and law enforcement efforts. Last week, both the Defense and Justice departments issued reports to Congress that alternately attempted to justify surveillance activities yet minimize any threats that efforts such as data mining and more liberal wiretapping rules pose to privacy. In a report, executive summary and appendices totaling 108 pages, Defense attempted to deflect criticism of a data-mining program designed to collect immigration, travel, governmental and potentially financial and medical information on millions of Americans. And as evidence that it is being both aggressive in using its surveillance powers to combat terrorism and determined in its protection of privacy, Justice presented 60 pages of answers to aggressively worded questions about the 2001 anti-terrorism law known as the USA PATRIOT Act. Full Story
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