Magistrate Stephen Smith: The Feds Do A Lot Of Secret Spying On Citizens

A Houston federal magistrate testified to Congress today about just how much secret surveillance the government is doing on your cell phone and other such devices.

Stephen Smith's prepared testimony says that Houston federal judges from 1995 to 2007 issued 325 "electronic surveillance orders" a year, in hearings where only the law-enforcement side is present.

"The public rarely learns about these orders, even long after issuance, because they are routinely placed under indefinite (ie., permanent) seal," he writes.

Out of 3,886 orders initially sealed "until further order of the court" between 1997 and 2005, he says, 99.8 percent remain under seal.

He says "the brunt of such secrecy is not necessarily borne" only by targets of investigations.

"Any target is likely to call or be called by family, friends, associates, or even total strangers who have no connection to a criminal enterprise," he says. "Yet by the fortuity of a single call, thse by-standers may be swept up in a criminal investigation, their cell phone use monitored and their location tracked in real time."

He calls for reforms such as time limits on orders and standards on sealing and "post-acquisition notice of tracking orders to cell phone users."

It's interesting stuff, well worth a read.

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