History teaches that government spying is naturally subject to abuse without strong oversight, yet only the tiniest fraction of electronic surveillance of Americans — the tip of a vast and rapidly growing iceberg — is meaningfully visible to Congress, let alone the general public. Under the controversial FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) Amendments Act of 2008, set to expire at the end of the year, the National Security Agency is empowered to vacuum up the international communications of Americans under sweeping authorizations that dispense with the need for individual warrants. Despite reports of large-scale overcollection of Americans’ e-mails and phone calls, including purely domestic traffic, the NSA has brazenly refused to give Congress any estimate of how many citizens’ private conversations are being captured in its vast databases, and legislators have shown little willingness to demand greater transparency as they prepare to reauthorize the law. Increasingly, even ordinary criminal investigations employ off-the-books electronic surveillance techniques that circumvent federal reporting requirements. The public is informed about the few thousand wiretaps authorized every year but remains largely in the dark about newer and far more prevalent techniques, such as the routine use of cell phones as sophisticated tracking devices.
Featuring Benjamin H. Friedman, Research Fellow in Defense and Homeland Security Studies, Cato Institute; Spencer Ackerman, Senior Writer, WIRED Magazine; and Julian Sanchez, Research Fellow, Cato Institute; moderated by Laura Odato, Director of Government Affairs, Cato Institute.
Featured PublicationWe are grateful to the Harry and Lynde Bradley Foundation and the Carthage Foundation whose support of the October 2012 Cato Conference “Europe’s Crisis and the Welfare State: Lessons for the United States” made possible this special issue of the Cato Journal.
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More Bang for Your Buck
The Cato Institute tops a new measure of think tank performance in the United States, according to a recent report. Cato bested all other U.S. think tanks in the main category of “Aggregate Profile per Dollar Spent.” “I’m grateful to the Center for Global Development for showing that Cato gives its sponsors something I wish government gave more of to taxpayers: bang for the buck,” said Cato CEO John Allison.