ACLU Finds Explosion in DOJ Electronic Surveillance

By Matthew Harwood

The Justice Department’s use of electronic surveillance tools to monitor Americans communications, particularly online, has exploded over the past few years, according to a short report released by the American Civil Liberties Union on Thursday.

Between 2009 and 2011, the number of original orders for phone surveillance submitted to courts by the Justice Department (DOJ) increased from 23,535 to 37,616, a 60 percent increase.

The surveillance tools in question are known as “pen registers” and “trap and trace” devices. The former collects non-content related information of outgoing communications, such as time and recipient’s number or e-mail address, while the latter collects non-content-related information about incoming communications. The ACLU procured the information after suing the government for failing to respond to a Freedom of Information Act request in pursuit of the documents.

This increase in phone surveillance, states the ACLU, caused an exponential increase in the amount of people under surveillance. “In fact, more people were subjected to pen register and trap and trace surveillance in the past two years than in the entire previous decade,” the report notes.

Pen registers and trap and traces have also been used to target e-mail and network communication data. Over the past two years, the ACLU found that Justice Department e-mail and Internet surveillance authorizations increased nearly fourfold from 360 in 2009 to 1,661 last year.

The rise in online surveillance requests reflects the shift in how people communicate, DOJ National Security Division spokesman Dean Boyd told the Associated Press.

‘‘In every instance cited here, a federal judge authorized the law enforcement activity,’’ he said. ‘‘As criminals increasingly use new and more sophisticated technologies, the use of orders issued by a judge and explicitly authorized by Congress to obtain non-content information is essential for federal law enforcement officials to carry out their duty to protect the public and investigate violations of federal laws.’’


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