Do you remember the good old days the when it used to be illegal for governments to spy on their citizens? I don’t either . . . but I’m told that it used to be illegal. Oh how times have changed.
The British government went out of control years ago; one report from the BBC in 2009 showed that an average of 1,500 petitions are submitted -every day- to conduct surveillance on UK citizens.
In the latest (publicized) perversion of government power, federal agents are now ordering real-time tracking of credit card transactions, travel information – pretty much anything right down to what brand of peanut butter you buy, and all without judicial or citizen oversight.
Known as ‘hotwatch orders,’ government agents are able to write their own administrative subpoenas to surveil US citizens; they request the records of phone companies, Internet service providers, video rentals, and even frequent flier / customer loyalty programs at airlines and grocery stores.
Without court oversight, the subpoenas do not even need to be part of an ongoing investigation or suspicion of criminal wrongdoing; US federal agents can simply decide that a particular individual should be tracked, and then compel private companies to provide a real time feed of his/her activities.
Frequently, the administrative subpoenas are accompanied by gag orders that prevent the company from notifying its customer that they had been served with a subpoena. More than likely, the customer will never know that his/her records are being instantaneously relayed to a federal agent.
The thing is, these hotwatch orders are not expressly authorized under US law; federal agents are capitalizing on loose language in existing laws that allow them to write administrative subpoenas in certain instances… and they’re taking that limited authority to extremes.
In 2009, House bill HR 1800 (National Security Letters Reform Act of 2009) was submitted which would tighten the language, provide clear guidelines for federal agencies’ authority, and provide an oversight mechanism.
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