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US Courts Approve 30,000 Secret Surveillance Orders Each Year 85

An anonymous reader writes "U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephen Smith estimates in a new paper (PDF) that 30,000 secret surveillance orders are approved each year in U.S. courts. 'Though such orders have judicial oversight, few emerge from any sort of adversarial proceeding and many are never unsealed at all.' Smith writes, 'To put this figure in context, magistrate judges in one year generated a volume of secret electronic surveillance cases more than thirty times the annual number of FISA cases; in fact, this volume of ECPA cases is greater than the combined yearly total of all antitrust, employment discrimination, environmental, copyright, patent, trademark, and securities cases filed in federal court.' He also adds a warning: 'Lack of transparency in judicial proceedings has long been recognized as a threat to the rule of law and roundly condemned in ringing phrases by many Supreme Court opinions.'"
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US Courts Approve 30,000 Secret Surveillance Orders Each Year

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @08:33AM (#40230951)

    Oh, wait....

  • Tracks (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Wowsers ( 1151731 ) on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @09:00AM (#40231111) Journal
    So that's 30,000 that went through the courts, nice PR spin. How many surveillance ops were mounted WITHOUT court orders?
  • Re:Welp... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by __aaltlg1547 ( 2541114 ) on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @09:02AM (#40231135)

    Due process? The people put on secret surveillance cannot defend themselves against those surveillance warrant. They can't go to court and attack the arguments of the police. There's judge oversight but not due process.

    As for rule of law... Well there certainly aren't 30k terrorists in the USA. The people put on surveillance must then include criminals and innocent people. I'd love to see statistics on what crimes these 30k are accused of and how many of them do not get convicted (or their case never goes to trial to being with).

    Your indignation appears to be based on misconceptions. First, the police never give you a chance to defend yourself before they get a warrant to search or surveil you. They get the warrant and the first you know about it, if you ever do, is when they show up to search your property or arrest you. So in that regard, these secret warrants are not greatly different from standard warrants. When getting a warrant, probable cause means establishing that there is substantial reason for suspicion that a crime has been committed and substantial reason to suspect that surveiling you will produce evidence relevant to the investigation. They don't need to suspect YOU of a crime.

    The secrecy regarding these warrants has to do with the fact that there are (supposed) national security aspects to the proceedings, and if it became known that the FBI was investigating you, or the reason for which they are investigating you, that fact of itself might compromise the country's ability to carry out military operations, foreign surveillance, etc.

    Probably few of these cases involve possible terrorism. They might involve espionage, military secrets, etc.

  • Re:Perspective (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Darkness404 ( 1287218 ) on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @09:20AM (#40231331)
    Which is a large enough number to include just about every major and semi-major political activist. Keep in mind that there is only a turnout of about 64-ish percent for most presidential elections.

    It should be worrying that the US courts approve even 1 secret surveillance order, let alone 30,000.
  • Re:Welp... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @09:56AM (#40231711) Homepage

    Here you have a guy who is contesting the evidence against him on the grounds the FISA warrant was obtained improperly. He may win. In most countries they would simply put a bullet in the back of his head and be done with it.

    Are you advocating becoming one of those countries?

    You get two choices, rule of law and procedure which is upheld, or whatever the hell the state security apparatus wants to do. I doubt anybody who has ever lived in a country where the latter prevails would advocate for it.

    When you stop following your own laws and rules, you cease to be a free society.

    So if warrants aren't properly obtained, and the legalities aren't observed, they should get thrown out. Walking all over procedure and people's rights in the name of expediency is never a good solution.

    But, hey, if you want a world where people get rounded up in the middle of the night without any real legal recourse or process ... well, there's always someone trying to do that. Me, I'll stick with advocating for someone keeping tabs on what's going on and making sure the police are playing by the rules.

    It's easy to forget those rules and safeguards were put in place to prevent abuses. You have nothing to fear if you've done nothing wrong or have nothing to hide is never going to work out in the long run.

  • Re:Welp... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @10:54AM (#40232433)

    The secrecy regarding these warrants has to do with the fact that there are (supposed) national security aspects to the proceedings

    Yeah, because being able to claim "national security" so that no one can know a thing is a great power for a government to have...

    I'd rather people find out the information, to be honest.

  • Re:Americans (Score:4, Insightful)

    by CanHasDIY ( 1672858 ) on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @12:00PM (#40233493) Homepage Journal

    48% of families receive government assistance. As long as that check comes every month (actually, it's now a debit card) they don't care what's going on.

    Not that I disagree with the sentiment, but you do realize how misleading that is, right? I.e., Pell grants, tax credits, mortgage deductions, school lunch/breakfast programs, hell, even right-of-way payments technically qualify as 'government assistance.' Also, does that percentage include state and local government assistance, or just federal?

    I for one would love to see a breakdown of what assistance is received by whom.

  • Re:Welp... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Sloppy ( 14984 ) on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @12:02PM (#40233547) Homepage Journal

    Yeah, that's the most damning thing about it. Even if you decide it's best to be very lenient with the government, the volume of search warrants to prosecutions suggests that most of the time that they asked for the warrant, it turned out that it was unjustified and probably did not actually lead to useful evidence.

    In real life, if someone cried wolf that often, eventually the wolf-crier would lose credibility with you. If you thought back to all the times they previously cried wolf and gave persuasive arguments that there was a wolf, but now realize that most of those arguments were bullshit, then you would rethink what is truly a persuasive argument.

    Yet the FISA court appears to not have this memory and intelligence. Less than my dog it seems. Believe me, it takes far fewer than THIRTY THOUSAND "psych! I didn't really throw the ball!" lessons for her to learn I didn't really throw the ball.

How many NASA managers does it take to screw in a lightbulb? "That's a known problem... don't worry about it."