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Secret court tosses privacy overboard

THE FIRST AMENDMENT

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Updated: August 11, 2013 6:33AM



In the law, they call it a “fishing expedition” — investigators digging through as many private records as they want just to see if something incriminating turns up.

Go into almost any big courthouse on almost any given day, and lawyers will be arguing whether a request for information amounts to nothing but a fishing expedition.

If people are to have any privacy, the argument goes, no one should be able to poke through their personal affairs without a good reason.

But that’s not an argument that holds much sway over at the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. As Monday’s Wall Street Journal detailed, virtually no fishing expedition is too broad for FISA.

The usual rule governing searches is that they must be relevant to the case at hand. So how can FISA justify allowing the National Security Agency to sweep up phone records of millions of people who are under no suspicion at all? By redefining the word “relevant” to the point where it pretty much means “everything.” Phone numbers that people dialed, where they were calling from and the length of the conversations are all considered fair game under FISA’s interpretation of the Patriot Act.

For FISA, the word “relevant” has become irrelevant.

The ability to use technology to keep tabs on people has been shooting ahead so fast it’s hard to keep track of the privacy implications. A recent Washington Post article, for example, reported that police have loaded more than 120 million driver’s license photos into searchable databases. Commercial services track what we look at on the Web, where we go and what we buy.

For those systems to work efficiently — including the NSA’s mining of phone records — vast amounts of data must be vacuumed up.

But that doesn’t mean we should abandon all hope of personal privacy. That, too, should be deemed relevant.

Chicago Sun-Times



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