Yes, the government is watching you.
Somebody cue the Rockwell. US Magistrate Judge Stephen Smith has released a new paper that estimates federal judges issue 30,000 electronic surveillance orders a year. And, they’re essentially secret, because if no action comes about from them, you’ll never know.
Digital “warrant-like” requests to access stored e-mail in on online account, or to wiretap an Internet connection, or to obtain “pen register” information, or to track a cell phone, are obtained from magistrate judges, many times in secret dockets that don’t even appear in the federal government’s official PACER document system. They come after one-sided (“ex parte”) proceedings in which only the government is heard. And they are generally sealed, only to be unsealed once a criminal case is filed. If no such charges are ever brought, the search warrants and the affidavits defend them can remain buried in the murkiest bits of the federal court system; even knowing that they exist can be a challenge. ISPs, which are often targets of such orders, may also be forbidden from disclosing them.
Smith isn’t arguing that we stop all this surveillance, rather make it more transparent.
If you’re a member of your local public radio station, we thank you — because your support helps those stations keep programs like Marketplace on the air. But for Marketplace to continue to grow, we need additional investment from those who care most about what we do: superfans like you.
Your donation — as little as $5 — helps us create more content that matters to you and your community, and to reach more people where they are – whether that’s radio, podcasts or online.
When you contribute directly to Marketplace, you become a partner in that mission: someone who understands that when we all get smarter, everybody wins.