U.S. Law Enforcement Agencies Increase Warrantless Electronic Snooping
Data obtained by the ACLU through litigation shows pen register and trap-and-trace orders jumped by more than 14,000 between 2009 and 2011.U.S. law enforcement snooping of email and Internet communications has increased dramatically during the last two years, according to information obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union. After months of litigation, the civil rights group was able to get information about the number of pen register and trap-and-trace orders issued by federal law-enforcement agencies between 2009 and 2011. According to the figures, the number of orders jumped from 23,535 in 2009 to 37,616, an increase of 60 percent. "Pen register and trap-and-trace devices are powerfully invasive surveillance tools that were, 20 years ago, physical devices that attached to telephone lines in order to covertly record the incoming and outgoing numbers dialed," blogged Naomi Gilens, legal assistant with the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project. "Today, no special equipment is required to record this information, as interception capabilities are built into phone companies’ call-routing hardware." "Pen register and trap and trace devices now generally refer to the surveillance of information about—rather than the contents of—communications," she explained. "Pen registers capture outgoing data, while trap and trace devices capture incoming data. This still includes the phone numbers of incoming and outgoing telephone calls and the time, date, and length of those calls."
"But the government now also uses this authority to intercept the “to” and “from” addresses of email messages, records about instant message conversations, non-content data associated with social networking identities, and at least some information about the Websites that you visit (it isn't entirely clear where the government draws the line between the content of a communication and information about a communication when it comes to the addresses of Websites)," she added.