Before Edward Snowden released his notorious NSA leaks, national intelligence officials swore they were not spying on millions of innocent people. As they lied through their teeth, ongoing revelations embarrassingly exposed their dishonesty. Now, yet another deception has come to light, revealing that the government has once again lied about the extent of its invasive policies.
According to a 2014 year-end report by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AO), “a total of 3,554 wiretaps were reported as authorized in 2014, with 1,279 authorized by federal judges and 2,275 authorized by state judges.” While this official number is already high, Albert Gidari, one of the country’s top privacy attorneys, noticed a discrepancy between the AO’s numbers and those detailed by private companies.
Since the controversy surrounding NSA surveillance began, private companies that cooperate with the government have taken steps to regain the trust of their users. In addition to offering encrypted communications (at the dramatic behest of authorities), companies now issue “transparency reports” to show how many requests for information the government makes.
Gidari explained that
AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint published data for 2014 earlier this year and T-Mobile published its first transparency report on the same day the AO released the Wiretap Report. In aggregate, the four companies state that they implemented 10,712 wiretaps, a threefold difference over the total number reported by the AO.
Further, he noted that while this disparity is monumental, it only accounts for the four companies that issue transparency reports—meaning the difference between the government’s claims and what it actually requested is even larger. Some companies, like Apple, have issued partial transparency reports while others have not made any effort at all. Some reports detail hundreds of thousands of requests though they are not specific to wiretaps, but overall government demands. This makes the exact difference between government truths and objective reality even harder to discern.
“Are wiretaps being consistently underreported to Congress and the public?” Gidari asks. “Based on the data reported by the four major carriers for 2013 and 2014, it certainly would appear to be the case.” He told Ars Technica that “’we are still off by 30 percent’ even if ‘all four carriers got the same order and it covered multiple devices.’”
It is nothing new for the surveillance state to be dishonest about the severity of its policies. First, Director of Intelligence James Clapper lied about whether or not the program existed. Then, members of Congress lied about the effectiveness of steps taken to curb it—supporting, for example, the USA Freedom Act—which did nothing but add a bureaucratic step to the process by which the state can access whatever user information it wants. Government proponents of these policies often inflate their value by falsely insisting that they help stop terrorism or that they must be able to access all information, at all times, in order to keep America safe from a plethora of nebulous—and always chronic—threats.
Ironically, many of the dangers that helped justify the growth of the monolithic surveillance state are fabricated, as well, from the fear-mongering inflicted after 9/11 that justified the Patriot Act and Iraq War to the increasingly laughable assertion that the government’s goal is to preserve the safety of the American people. News that the state has once again used deception to elevate its image and power is unfortunately nothing but a predictable tool to justify oppression and encourage submission.