When it comes to the inner-workings of and decisions made by our government, many Americans feel out of the loop. Whether one believes that Washington should disclose more information given the difficult aftermath of an economic recession and an ever-developing conflict in the Middle East, or that the lack of transparency is crucial to our national security, one question would be wise to ask: Is our government excessively secretive?
The 2012 Secrecy Report, a document authored collaboratively by Patrice McDermott, Amy Bennett and Abby Paulson of Open the Government.org, discusses the federal government's expensive and suspicious preoccupation with keeping information classified.
In maintaining secrecy surrounding matters of national security, the government has been remarkably diligent. The report specifically speaks of National Security Letters (NSLs), which are FBI requests for private information about persons (of entire groups) of interest. Expanded by the USA PATRIOT Act, NSLs can demand the disclosure of private information about anyone at any given time, with or without probable cause, even from third parties.
These information "requests" are not like search warrants issued by local law enforcement agencies. A recent article in the ABA Journal shines a light on how significantly the two differ and the response NSLs are garnering. According to the 2012 Secrecy Report, the Justice Department says the government issued 16,511 NSLs on 7201 Americans in 2011, requesting data from internet service providers, telecommunications companies, etc. In 2010, there were a staggering 24,287 requests. Examples like March 2012 Patriot award winner Nick Merrill from the Calyx Institute are especially worth emulating at a time like this.
The report also points out that the Obama Admininstration "urged Congress to renew provisions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Amendments Act (FAA) that are set to expire at the end of this year." Even beyond the unchecked intrusion of NSLs, the current administration is pushing for a provision that would make court orders unnecessary for surveillance of "entire categories of non-U.S. persons who are located abroad."
While extending its own secrecy, our federal government has taken steps to ensure that, soon, you won't be able to have secrets of your own.