Could You Prove That The Government Was Watching You Illegally?

from the I-always-feel-like-somebody's-watching-me dept

Wired has an article about a court dismissing a lawsuit by a guy who claimed the government was spying on him. The claims sound pretty much like your run-of-the-mill tinfoil-hat-wearing paranoid, so it’s no surprise that the government tossed out the lawsuit. But, as David Kravets points out in the article, what if the government actually did put someone under 24-hour surveillance. Would there be any way to prove it? Since the government won’t admit to things like who’s on the no-fly list and still supports warrantless wiretaps, it could very easily make anyone who really is under surveillance out to be a nutcase tinfoil-hat wearing lunatic. It seems quite unlikely that was true in this case (or in most cases of such claims), but it does seem bizarre that if you really were in such a situation, proving it would be almost impossible as well.

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Comments on “Could You Prove That The Government Was Watching You Illegally?”

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Christopher (profile) says:

Well, that is the problem with these 'state secrets'

If someone is being watched extra-legally or illegally, with the laws that we have right now they are basically screwed and then some, because it would be impossible to prove that they were being watched and get the government to stop…. unless they did their own pseudo-legal ‘sting operation’ against the government to see if they were really monitoring them.

Fred McTaker (profile) says:

Of course you are being watched! This is news?

Did everyone else miss the fact that AT&T has basically admitted that they allowed the NSA to wiretap all their lines, and searched for immunity from prosecution for violating their customers’ privacy. It took a whistleblower in their SF office to get that process started, but they haven’t denied it. Or what about the story of the FBI tap at Verizon? Or have you heard the fact that wireless calls can be tapped indiscriminately just because they’re wireless, so such a tap isn’t considered “invasive.” Have any of the related ACLU suits been resolved?

If you use a phone, or send anything over the Internet in plain-text, the government has full access to that data. The only question is what “keywords” they’re using in their sweeping searches on all that data, and they’ll never tell us that.

The main problem with this guy isn’t any tin foil hats — it’s the fact that he’s not alone. The question is who is NOT being watched.

Skeptical Cynic (profile) says:

Re: Re: Of course you are being watched! This is news?

Don’t be stupid. It’s not about whether you do or don’t have anything to hide, it’s about whether or not the government should have the power to monitor you without proper cause. When a government has that power they will abuse it. Sure today they will use it to do good! But tomorrow you might say something they don’t like and they then FIND a reason to make you a criminal.

So don’t be too quick to give up your freedom.

chris (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Of course you are being watched! This is news?

When a government has that power they will abuse it. Sure today they will use it to do good! But tomorrow you might say something they don’t like and they then FIND a reason to make you a criminal.

it’s not that. it’s that administrations (and their priorities) change. that’s all.

the folks at the helm today may be totally trustworthy and will only use this surveillance and the information gleaned from its use to prevent terrorism, but those people won’t be around forever. what happens when a new administration uses it in support one side of a highly politicized or controversial issue?

Fred McTaker (profile) says:

Re: Re: Of course you are being watched! This is news?

“Do you have anything to hide?”

Of course I have something to hide! Credit card numbers, account balances, health history, favorite TV shows that I’m embarrassed about, half of what I did in college, that one paper on feminism, what I *really* think about George Bush….

Can you honestly tell me that you want a government who can’t even keep a secret watch list *really secret at all* to have access to all your data? As if it wont instantly leak to criminals no matter how “secret” they think they’re keeping it? More of that data is probably put to use by the Mob insiders than the Fed. Do you want the Mafia (name your favorite) to have all your conversations on record?

Hulk Smash! says:

Re: Re: Of course you are being watched! This is news?

“Do you have anything to hide?”

That is perhaps the single, most idiotic excuse someone has put forth to justify ANYTHING.

So, if I stop you on the street and strip search you, why should you care – as long as you have nothing to hide?

If everytime you talk to your girlfriend, wife or other significant other – I’m listening – why should that bother you – as long as you have nothing to hide?

When you are in confession and I’m sitting between you and the preist, why should you care – as long as you have nothing to hide.

When the government comes and carts you away and throws you in prison unjustly – why should it matter, as long as you have nothing to hide.

I’m sure “Do you have anything to hide?” was on the lips of many Germans as the secret police raided the homes of their neighbors and sent their friends to concentration camps.

It starts small – but it always ends messy.

Benjie says:


they should make it if you can’t disprove it, then you must assume it’s true which means you can just keep suing the government for illegal spying until they open up their process.

There should be an “obvious” test for constitutionality of any actions performed by people ordered to do something. If something is “obviously” unconstitutional, then the people carrying out the spying/whatever should be sentenced to prison time and all people above those people revive increasingly harsher punishment for not keeping watch of their subordinates.

Paul (profile) says:

Time for a sting

if you think your being watched start playing a game called Shadowrun, Spycraft, or other game about doing illegial things. BUT dont tell anyone over any electronic media that its a game.

If you then toss recording equipment around your house car and place of work you could figure out whos doing the spying and sue them directly for stalking (walk right up to them, knock, serve them with john doe papers.)

If the gov really thinks your a threat there going to come knocking at some point which you’ve proven you’ve been spied on because they raided your house and hopefully your setup auto loads to the net.

chris (profile) says:

Re: Time for a sting

If the gov really thinks your a threat there going to come knocking at some point which you’ve proven you’ve been spied on because they raided your house and hopefully your setup auto loads to the net.

you don’t have to be a threat to be under surveillance. government employees with high-level security clearances are often under observation as a purely preventative measure.

Andrew F (profile) says:

Trust me

How do you know that when you give your credit card to a waitress that she’s not memorizing your credit card number to sell to the highest bidder?

You can’t tap her phone line, search her e-mail, or otherwise invade her privacy without reasonable cause. Yet you’ll have a much harder time establishing reasonable cause without invading her privacy.

The best you can do (apart from tipping well and paying cash) is to trust her for now and hope that if she does do something malicious, she’ll slip up and leave enough of a trail for someone to catch her.

Ditto for the government. Trust that they’re not screwing you and hope that if they are, they’ll leave enough clues for you to justifiably raise a stink.

Anonymous Coward says:

Today I don’t think citizens have the means to detect survailance done by the state, Bush took care of that 🙂

Putting something in the same foot as child molesters, rapists and terrorists is a sure way to take any safeguards that exist for privacy or unreasonable surveillance and searches.

For those who argue the “Have you anything to hide” here is a video from a law teacher explaining why you shouldn’t ever talk to the police and the explaining that nobody in the country can know all the laws that exist not even the government knows so how people can be sure they have not broken the law?
(Don’t talk to the police)

That video is relevant because when you are being watched anyone can catch you doing little things that can be illegal and then people have leverage over you and you can be forced to take instances you would otherwise not. Surveillance is like talking to the police.

Do I think it is possible to stop any type of surveillance?
No but what you can do is regulate their use, you may not be able to stop surveillance or know about but you can regulate it in such a manner that it will never be used to compel people to do things that are wrong. The wrong part must be agreed by individuals inside society and to know that the government have to have transparency so “National Security” issues should not be an excuse to hide things from the public.

FormerAC (profile) says:

Re: Re:

That is a great video.

For those saying you “have nothing to hide” here are a few quotes …

The Congressional Research Service can no longer even count the number of federal crimes. The federal criminal laws are over 37,000 pages in length.

One example: 16 U.S.C. 3370 (Lacey Act)
It is unlawful for any person to … import, export, transport, sell, receive, acquire, or purchase any fish or wildlife or plant taken, possessed, transported or sold in violation of any law, treaty, or regulation of the United States or in violation of any Indian Tribal law or law or regulation of any state or any foreign law.

So basically, if you are in possession of a fish, animal, or plant that is illegal anywhere in the entire world, even if just a state law, or an Indian Tribal law, then you are in violation of a federal criminal statue.

Anonymous Coward says:

Yes. But I can also see what they did with my random thoughts.

Things like the creation of The Maiden Lane Family of companies, named after Claire Trevor, a character I debated with my fiancee at length on the phone for hours, bring a something of an off-smile.

I enter into this inspired by Song: Sweet Disposition, by The Temper Tramp
Shamelessly recommended by: Jeff Robbin via first few seconds of his demo of iTunes 9.

If anything at all, I suppose I am more curious why when I try search for “Jeff Robbin presents” (In an effort to determine which Dev/Mac world he presented at, of course) he’s somehow comes up listed as an author of “The pleasure of finding things out: the best short works of Richard P. Feynman”

Nonetheless, it’s a good song. Apple’s next big announcement should be outside SFO area. At least I think so.

I just did what Malcolm Gladwell said he liked, and the very thing Mike Masnick hates.

Taking things from here and moving them to ——————————————————————–> here.

Mike hates storytellers.

1DandyTroll says:

... illegally?

Don’t they usually interpret the law so as to be able to do stuff legally. So, if it’s legal, then it’d be rather hard to prove it’s illegal, especially if it never happened in the first place.

Is this a trick question? 😉

However, if it would be true, maybe they ought to learn from the native americans who supposedly stayed away from crazy people lest they be infected too, or in this case affected to the effect of negative, and useless, government spending, because that’s always criminal.

Lonzo5 (profile) says:

Double Standard

I find this interesting:

Even if I had electronic evidence of clear misconduct by a government official, I would be charged with a “wiretap violation”, and the evidence I had collected in my criminal investigation would be considered inadmissible in court.

If that same bureaucrat felt that it was pertinent to an investigation (subject to that individual person’s discretion, of course), they could track and record me without my knowledge, and use that knowledge against me with impunity.

Evidence should be evidence. I consider this fear of scrutiny a preemptive admission of guilt. We have to assume that everyone who works for the government is doing something wrong at every opportunity. I don’t want to think of my government in this way, especially when I’m helping to finance its existence, but if this were untrue, then they wouldn’t hate cameras– in fact, they would love them, because they would present a perfect opportunity to show everyone what a great job they’re doing.

Skeptics: Next time you see a police officer, pull out your Blackberry and start filming him. Try videotaping inside a courthouse. They’re like cockroaches– they scatter when you turn on the lights.

mindcontrol says:

It's still happening to me

The biggest problem is that mind reading is reality and government is using that on some people without their knowledge. At every moment your brain can be tracked on 24 hours basis and they can get all information from your brain including pictures that your brain makes. Also they can induce sound in your brain.

I guess, it’s ok if you don’t know for that, but what if you know that for sure? Depending on your toughs they can act with some sick sounds and yes, they can make you a mad men if they wish to.

So, in that case you are going to get very mentally sick and unstable person, and your mind might create phobia pictures that are not even related with your personality, because your mind could make wrong pictures because of fears to being captured by government for something that you have never done. The worst thing it’s not stopping and you might get more and more sick and eventually lose your mind.

I guess government has opened Pandora’s box that with time will destroy society. Just think that in future that husband can read mind of his wife and vise verse etc. It’s going to be hell of life for all of us as time comes with more and more advanced technology .

Are aluminum shield are helping? I think they does, all depends of frequency they are using, but I assume they can change the frequencies, but I’m not that educated for this question.

That’s my opinion and belive it or not it’s the truth. Only thing that I know that I’m not paranoid person and never have been,
but it’s difficult to believe in some things until you feel it on yourself.

Been Spied On says:

Nothing to hide

I too, get tired of the nothing to hide garbage. Everyone does realize of course that this is usually a “government” person that posts that crap? Right?
Maybe all “American” citizens should just take the walls off of their houses so all the little pervs can watch their children bathe nude and then the pervs will stop spouting the nothing to hide crap. That is all they are after you know. Sarcasm of course.

savant says:

Government Surveillance

Surveillance is probably much more common than most Americans would like to believe.
Extremely smart individuals, educated or uneducated are very likely to be under lifetime surveillance in the United States.
If you have an unmeasurable IQ, or if you have a extreme high unmeasurable IQ, your likely hood of being under surveillance, increases with the larger the estimated number, that is assigned as your IQ.
Certainly if your IQ is over 300 you are under life time surveillance, but only if they know what your IQ is.
I recommend that parents refuse to allow the testing of their children when it comes to IQ test.
Being under Surveillance is no fun, and surveillance for this reason is unconstitutional.

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