Declassified Transcript Shows Federal Judges Do Not Believe Mass Surveillance Causes Harm
In June 2008 a three-judge panel for the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review told lawyers for Yahoo that they did not believe secret government orders for email and other digital communications caused the company or its customers any harm.
The Officer of the Director of National Intelligence has declassified transcripts of the hearing which took place in Providence, Rhode Island. Yahoo was attempting to oppose a growing number of requests to let the government monitor users’ emails and other communications. The tech company eventually lost the appeal and the US government continued to monitor the incoming data.
On September 11 of this year Yahoo won a battle when a judge ordered the release of 1,500 pages of court documents from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, also known as the FISA court. The court is notoriously secretive with little oversight. Critics say a lack of transparency has allowed various federal agencies to run mass surveillance programs with no accountability.
The courts were originally created in response to reports produced by the Church Committee, the Senate panel tasked with investigating the foreign and domestic surveillance operations by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), National Security Agency (NSA) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) during the 1970’s. The Church Committee also released detailed reports on the governments Counter Intelligence Programs (COINTELPRO) that were used against activists and influential voices of opposition during the 1950’s and 60’s.
In the transcript Yahoo’s Attorney Marc Zwillinger attempts to show the judges that large number of warrantless requests coming from the government were responsible for harming the company and its users. Zwillinger told the judge that Yahoo was “being asked and compelled to participate in surveillance we believe violates the constitution of the United States.”
The judges did not buy the argument. As VentureBeat reports:
“Well, if this order is enforced and it’s secret, how can you be hurt?” wondered Justice Morris Arnold. “The people don’t know they’re being monitored in some way. How can you be harmed by it? What’s the damage to the consumer?”
When the lawyers argued that the American people are aware of the programs the judges countered that if people assume they are being monitored than there is no harm in approving the requests. The judges also claimed that all tech companies are subject to government requests so everyone is suffering equally.
“I’m having trouble seeing who exactly is hurt here,” Justice Ralph Winter
FISA courts operate behind closed doors and allow government agencies to request data without the need for a warrant. The court is notorious for approving nearly 99% percent of all requests they receive. With no one watching the watchers it is guaranteed that someone will use the system for ill will. If the American people want to hold on to the remaining freedoms they have there needs to be a larger movement to fight back against government surveillance.
How can we make that happen? Leave your thoughts below.