Illegal Government Surveillance Opens Door to More Privacy Violations
San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) told a congressional committee today that the government's illegal dragnet electronic surveillance opens the door to even more privacy violations for ordinary Americans.
The sheer volume of personal information collected and the databases in which that information is stored create a giant target for attackers who want to steal or expose Americans' personal data. In a response to questions asked of EFF by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn explained in comments submitted Friday that an increase in the number of databases introduces more points of vulnerability into the system, putting sensitive personal information from millions of people at risk.
"We have all heard about security problems with government databases. A report from the Department of Homeland Security found 477 breaches in 2006 alone," said Cohn. "The warrantless domestic surveillance going on now isn't just illegal -- it could expose your personal information to thieves and criminals."
The committee asked EFF for input as part of its review of the Protect America Act, deeply flawed legislation that broadly expanded the National Security Agency's authority to spy on Americans without warrants. Next week, the House is set to vote on the RESTORE Act, a bill designed restore the civil liberties lost under the previous law.
Since the committee had also sent a list of key questions to AT&T and the other major telecommunications firms about their involvement in illegal surveillance activities, EFF provided the committee information about the Hepting v. AT&T lawsuit. EFF represents the plaintiffs in this class-action lawsuit brought by AT&T customers, accusing the telecommunications company of violating their rights by illegally assisting the NSA's domestic surveillance. The Hepting case is just one of many suits aimed at holding telecoms responsible for knowingly violating federal privacy laws with warrantless wiretapping and the illegal transfer of vast amounts of personal data to the government.
EFF also provided the committee with a legal analysis of the use of so-called "exigent letters" by the government to obtain information about Americans and about their "communities of interest," two topics also raised by the committee in its letters to the telecommunications carriers. EFF's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) work uncovered this illegal broadening of surveillance authority.
"We're pleased that the committee is interested in obtaining answers from the leading telecommunications carriers about whether they have been following the privacy laws protecting their customers' communications. Congressional oversight of the telecommunications companies' activities is long overdue," said Cohn.
For EFF's full comments to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce:
For more on the class-action lawsuit against AT&T:
Electronic Frontier Foundation