Today brings news that the “Electronic Privacy Information Center [has] filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act for documents related to any agreement between Google and the NSA” on cybersecurity and related matters. The controversy over the request reminds me of an excellent recent debate on the digital surveillance state at Cato Unbound. Glenn Greenwald leads off by documenting an array of intrusive surveillance practices:
[T]he Bush administration . . . ordered the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on American citizens without the warrants required by law and without any external oversight at all. Despite the fact that the 30-year-old FISA law made every such act of warrantless eavesdropping a felony, “punishable by a fine of not more than $10,000 or imprisonment for not more than five years, or both,” and despite the fact that all three federal judges who ruled on the program’s legality concluded that it was illegal, there was no accountability of any kind. . . .
[Medical] “files” are maintained through a 2005 law which, the Government claims, authorizes it to monitor and record all prescription drug use by all citizens via so-called “Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs.” And there is a slew of other under-discussed surveillance programs whereby the U.S. government stores vast data on our private activities: everything from every domestic telephone call we make to “risk assessment” records based on our travel activities. A bipartisan group of Senators is currently promoting mandated “biometric ID cards” for every American as a purported solution to illegal immigration.
Paul Rosenzweig responds that there are several programs internal to federal agencies designed to protect privacy, including DHS’s “statutorily required Privacy Officer” and “Officer for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.” Julian Sanchez insists that, regardless of these formal protections, the overall architecture of communications and data storage has enabled a quantum leap in surveillance: