August 2011 | 08:41 AM ET | Sue Marquette Poremba
In the decade since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the size and scope of the U.S. national-security apparatus has greatly expanded.
The trigger of that growth was the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001 more commonly known as the Patriot Act which Congress overwhelmingly approved in the weeks following 9/11.
Since its inception, the Patriot Act has been controversial, and some argue that it is an attack on the freedoms protected in the Bill of Rights. In May of this year, two Democratic members of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee said "Americans would be appalled if they knew how broadly the Justice Department has interpreted what the law allows government snoops to do."
Nevertheless, President Barack Obama and Congress extended several key provisions in the Patriot Act until 2015. While some in Congress want to overturn the provisions or require the government to be more honest about how it spies on its citizens, chances are we will remain under the watchful and secretive eye of federal agencies for the foreseeable future.
State and local governments also have surveillance measures in place. Many products that make life a little easier, such using an E-Z Pass card to zip through toll booths, feed information back to the government.
Here are 10 ways government agencies watch us:
|Roving John Doe wiretaps
One of the controversial Patriot Act provisions reauthorized this past spring permits roving John Doe wiretaps, which follow a "person of interest" within a broad search warrant.
For example, instead of getting a warrant to tap into a single phone line , the roving John Doe wiretap allows law enforcement to tap any and all communication lines cellphone, landline, email, text messaging a person of interest may be using.
|FBI monitoring of email and electronic communications
The FBI implemented a system in the late 1990s known as Carnivore, which scanned emails en masse looking for keywords. It's since been replaced by even more sophisticated software.
"Carnivore uses a list of FBI-supplied keywords to sift through email (maybe everybody's email) to find suspicious references to call FBI attention to possibly nefarious conversations going on across the Internet," explained Joe B. Vaughan, Jr., author of "The Suburban Manifesto: How To Get City Hall To Do Exactly What You Want" (CreatePress, 2010).
"The FBI would use this program to track terrorists, drug traffickers, etc.," Vaughan said. "I had a conversation with an FBI agent about this. He said that this technology is necessary because of the impossible task of monitoring all of the email traffic occurring daily by federal authorities. Carnivore sifts email and when it finds matching keyword references, the FBI can zero in on the sender and receiver and monitor their email conversations more effectively."
|License-plate cameras at intersections
In order to crack down on drivers running red lights or committing other traffic transgressions, many municipalities have installed cameras at intersections.
The camera snaps a picture of the offending vehicle , and based on license-plate information, the photo and an accompanying traffic ticket are sent to the cars owner.
"The offense, by the way, is usually never entered in the driver's record, so their insurance rate usually will not increase for the violation just a way for cities to make more revenue from drivers' mistakes, said Vaughan.
...the rest of the ways the government is snooping on you can be found at Cyberwar Central