So how do we even begin to reclaim local control over police surveillance in a fragmented world? First, we need people to ask the most basic of questions about what surveillance technologies are being purchased with tax dollars and why. Questions of public safety require public comment and oversight. Second, we need to create a space to demand accountability from local leaders. At some point in the fiscal year, local officials should have to explain their technology purchases and policies to the community.
Campaign groups, NGOs and academics have teamed up to file a series of complaints with the EU over bulk surveillance in several countries. They are calling for EU governments to stop requiring companies to store all communications data - a practice that's been ruled unlawful by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) not just once but twice. Blanket data retention requires phone and internet providers to retain the traffic data - numbers called, IP addresses, location data and identity - of all of their users for several months or years, depending on local national law. And despite rulings in 2014 and 2016 that this contravened European law, the practice still continues in more than a dozen EU countries. Now, though, Privacy International, Liberty, and Open Rights Group have teamed up with more than 60 NGOs, community groups, and academics across the EU to file a series of complaints in Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the U.K. "There should have been no need for Privacy International and our colleagues across Europe to file complaints to the European Commission today.
The debate on privacy and law at the Federal Trade Commission was unusually heated that day. Tech industry executives "argued that they were capable of regulating themselves and that government intervention would be costly and counterproductive." Civil libertarians warned that the companies' data capabilities posed "an unprecedented threat to individual freedom." One observed, "We have to decide what human beings are in the electronic age. Are we just going to be chattel for commerce?"
For decades, such surveillance was prohibited under the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. After the Church Committee revealed a sordid three-decade history of intelligence abuses, Congress enacted FISA to protect Americans from warrantless surveillance masquerading as "foreign intelligence" collection. The law required the government, when acting inside the United States, to obtain permission from a secret court before intercepting communications between foreigners and Americans. The FISA Court could approve the surveillance only if the government showed probable cause that the target was a foreign power or its agent--such as a foreign government official, or an American conducting espionage for another nation.