Don’t worry. Government spies can still go about their surveillance of citizens. It’s just a little harder now.
Earlier this week, the practices of National Security surveillance were overhauled by the Senate, but in that same session three provisions of the Patriot Act were renewed, including one that allows roving wiretaps of targets now affiliated with any foreign power or terrorist group.
In other good news for G-Men snoops, the Drug Enforcement Administration has been able to successfully circumvent federal guidelines for acquiring wiretaps, according to a recent article in USA Today.
The Department of Justice released its wiretap statistics, which show that the DEA conducted 11,681 “electronic intercepts” of phone calls and text messages last fiscal year, roughly three times the amount ten years ago. The concern for privacy advocates isn’t just the amount of surveillance being conducted, but the method by which surveillance authorization is attained.
Though the wheels of federal justice turn slow, making the acquisition of wiretap permissions from senior Justice Department officials a sometimes a lengthy and difficult process, the DEA found a workaround solution. According to the report, it has become common practice for the agency to circumvent its immediate superiors and instead seek permission from local judges and prosecutors. Depending on the state or county, regional justice wheels can spin at a much higher RPM than those belonging to the feds, resulting in more and more wiretaps.
60% of all DEA wiretaps are granted by these local authorities. Most government surveillance is conducted for drug investigations, and a great deal of that is done by the DEA.
According to DEA Spokesman Joseph Moses, the increased use of electronic surveillance is do to “the proliferation of communication devices and methods,” but Hanni Fakhoury of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an interest group for preserving digital privacy, points out that the federal chain of command “exists to make sure that wiretap authority is… only used when totally appropriate. That’s a burden. And if there’s a way to get around that burden, the agents are going to try to get around it.”
Wiretap statistics also revealed which U.S. regions are more wiretap-friendly than others. According to the records of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, Riverside, California gave more wiretap authorizations in 2013 than any other U.S. jurisdiction, including the federal court. Riverside wiretaps then almost doubled in 2014, totalling 602.
So, if you’re looking for the most secure Big Brother/Person of Interest/Eagle Eye/Enemy of the State/end of Dark Knight totalitarian state in the country, look no further than the majestic Inland Empire realm of Riverside, CA.