New documents released by the American Civil Liberties Union on Monday show that warrantless electronic surveillance has soared on President Obama's watch.
Federal law enforcement documents released to the ACLU after months of litigation show that telephone, email and social media surveillance of citizens is up 60 percent since 2009 — increasing from 23,535 orders in 2009 to 37,616 orders in 2011.
The documents obtained by the ACLU only account for non-content surveillance — the phone numbers dialed by the target or the email addresses entered rather than the actual content of the phone conversation or email exchange.
Because law enforcement is not capturing the content the communications, the current legal standards do not require an actual warrant, just assurance from law enforcement to a judge that the surveillance is related to an ongoing investigation.
"In every instance cited in the ACLU report, a federal judge authorized the law enforcement activity. As criminals increasingly use new and more sophisticated technologies, the use of orders issued by a judge and explicitly authorized by Congress to obtain non-content information is essential for federal law enforcement officials to carry out their duty to protect the public and investigate violations of federal laws,” Dean Boyd, Department of Justice spokesman, said in a statement.
The ACLU also finds that the number of people under government monitoring has soared during the Obama years. The ACLU finds that more people were subject to surveillance during the last two years than during the entire previous decade combined. Email surveillance of citizens has increased 361 percent since 2009.
The ACLU's data only accounts for Justice Department surveillance, and does not account for surveillance by other federal agencies, or local or state authorities.
Part of the rise may also account for the fact that non-content electronic surveillance has become much simpler. In the past, it required physical devices attached to phone lines — now, the ability to acquire the metadata is built into phone and Internet technology.
During his campaign, Obama opposed the George W. Bush administration's warrantless surveillance program, and backed expanded congressional and public oversight of such programs.
However, Obama angered the left during his 2008 campaign by backing a renewal of the FISA surveillance law. And he has since signed extensions of many of the Bush-era war on terror programs that have not included any additional oversight changes.