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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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  • transparancy (Score:3, Interesting)

    by joebagodonuts ( 561066 ) <> on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @08:23AM (#40230885) Homepage Journal

    Greater transparency would enable meaningful oversight not only by appellate courts but also by Congress and the general public.

    ...and the executive branch will pitch a fit. We would benefit from congress actually asserting itself a bit more in this area. I'm not interested in living in a monarchy

  • Re:Welp... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @08:29AM (#40230923)

    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).

  • Re:Welp... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @08:33AM (#40230945)

    While this is horrifying, it's at least a little comfort that there is any rule of law or due process left at all.

    Rule of law? It looks like the judges just rubber stamp it.

    That itself will probably be gone given a decade or so.

    No. even if it makes the nightly news, folks won't give a shit. You see from what I've seen, generally speaking my fellow Americans don't really know what freedom is. To them freedom means being able to drive where they want, eat what they and watch what they want - plenty of bread and circuses. Protections from Government abuses and viloations of Civil Liberties is off their radar or they consider it to be some pinko Liberal value. They can still own a gun, after all! Although gun ownership is in our Constitution, slowly, all so slowly, that right has been chipped away - gun laws in most states have become incredibly restrictive to LAW abiding citizens. Guns rights have become one of the bones, if you will, to be thrown to a very vocal portion of our society so that they'll ignore some of the real scary things that are happening with our rights.

    Nevermind. Most folks won't give a shit until they're stopped and asked to show their papers. Even then, there will be plenty of folks who won't mind because they think it keeps them safe from all the: drunk drivers, drug addicts, rapist, child molesters, terrorists, and every other public threat due jour.

    People are too stupid to be free.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @08:38AM (#40230997)

    That's probably high enough to include every single political activist in the country, which is certainly part of who they're interested in suppressing.

  • Re:Welp... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @08:40AM (#40231001)

    Nevermind. Most folks won't give a shit until they're stopped and asked to show their papers. Even then, there will be plenty of folks who won't mind because they think it keeps them safe from all the: drunk drivers, drug addicts, rapist, child molesters, terrorists, and every other public threat due jour.

    Yo, try driving within 100 miles of the Mexican border. They've got permanent checkpoints that are not at all at the actual fucking border.

  • Re:Welp... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Psyborgue ( 699890 ) on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @08:47AM (#40231039) Homepage Journal
    They can't defend themselves against the warrant, sure, but if the evidence collected is ever used against them in court, they do have the opportunity to contest whether it was collected validly. Take this terrorist for example. [] 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.
  • by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @09:29AM (#40231415) Journal

    The "secret warrants" I really want to know about are the ones the judges turn down.

    First, are there any? Second, on what grounds do any get turned down? Is it, "No, you knucklehead, that 82 year-old nun who goes to anti-war meetings is not a threat to national security" or is it, "Hey, this bit here about "capture or kill" that 82 year-old nun, is that really necessary?".

  • Re:Americans (Score:5, Interesting)

    by kilfarsnar ( 561956 ) on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @10:59AM (#40232511)

    I read stories like these all almost every day, going on for years now. Then I read the comments and see angry American citizens decrying Americas descent into a police state. But I don't see any actual real protest, only angry comments online ... Why are you so timid?

    There are a number of reasons that can be mixed and matched for any given individual.

    First, some of us do protest. There were huge protests around the Iraq war back in 2003. But media coverage was lacking (odd, eh?). There have also been the "Occupy" protests which have been widespread and some quite large. The corporate media have a funny way of downplaying or casting aspersions at these protests though. And business seems to go on as usual in spite of them. But they are there, and they do have an impact.

    Second, the American people are fractured as a society. We are as suspicious of each other as we are of the government. That makes it harder to organize people around things they agree on. We have been taught to fear our neighbor and look to the state for authority and protection. Organizations like unions that used to be a political force have been systematically beaten back by business and other interests.

    Third, many of us buy in to the hype and don't perceive that we are slipping into a police state. Many of my friends and family don't see it. They think totalitarianism has to look like Nazi Germany, and even then it has to look like it does in the movies. I am not forthcoming to most people about my political opinions, and those with whom I am think I'm a little "out there".

    Fourth, there are real risks to protesting in the United States. If I get arrested at a protest, my employer will not be happy and I could lose my job. I would probably need to take time off work to join a protest. I can do that, but many of my hourly-wage fellow citizens cannot; especially on a sustained basis. If you work for a company that does business with the government, your employer might not like your protesting either. People can be fired for just about any reason in the United States.

    Fifth, many people's lives are still fairly comfortable and they don't want to upset the apple cart. It's plain old short-sighted self-interest.

    Lastly, and this is related to point three, the American people don't really know what's going on. See my signature for more insight. They know things are bad, but they don't really know why. And the "news" where they get their information is not going to explain it to them. How does the Fed's zero interest rate policy affect their savings account or their ability to borrow money? How many Wall Street firms engaged in fraud over the past decade? When is the right to free speech most important? Was there a state of emergency declared after 9/11/01 and if so has it ever been repealed? Why does it matter? Most Americans don't know the answers to these questions. They don't even know the questions. They are too busy with keeping their jobs and raising their kids (most families need two incomes these days) to pay close attention. Or they think the government is corrupt and unresponsive anyway, so why bother. In short they are disengaged. Those in power who really know the score are interested in keeping them that way.

    Well, you asked... ;-)

With all the fancy scientists in the world, why can't they just once build a nuclear balm?