Will Bunk and McNulty abandon ‘The Wire’ for your instant messages?
Police surveillance expert Christopher Soghoian of Indiana University says the popular Hollywood image of investigators hiding in an unmarked van as they listen to wiretapped conversations is a relic of the past. Today, eavesdropping is far more sophisticated. Now police and the FBI can learn virtually anything they want “from the comfort of their own desks.” Much of this work isn’t actually done by police themselves, but by businesses you rely on every day to communicate.
Consider the extraordinarily detailed data captured by tools we all use: instant messages, stored emails, web-browsing history, geo-location from mobile phones and much more. Soghoian says little is known about how police exploit these technologies, because few statistics are available. That means the breadth of police surveillance is hidden from public scrutiny, raising questions about accountability, privacy and civil liberties in the United States. In the U.S., laws were specially created decades ago to regulate traditional surveillance techniques like wiretapping after years of abuse.
Soghoian says in a new report:
“Over the last decade, law enforcement agencies have enthusiastically embraced many new sources of investigative and surveillance data for which there are no mandatory reporting requirements. As a result, most modern surveillance now takes place entirely off the books and the true scale of such activities, which vastly outnumber traditional wiretaps and pen registers, remains unknown.”
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