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Sealed court files obscure rise in electronic surveillance

Every year, the federal government makes thousands of requests for court-ordered electronic surveillance, often without a warrant. And long after the investigations that spawned them have ended, the vast majority of these legal proceedings are sealed indefinitely from public view—unlike nearly all other aspects of American judicial proceedings.

The Wall Street Journal surveyed 25 of the top federal district courts in the U.S. and found that most couldn’t provide even basic data on the electronic-surveillance orders, which allow investigators to trace telephone calls, locate wireless phones and monitor Internet accounts. What data were available indicates a significant increase in location tracking and other high-tech surveillance methods—and a system in which more than 90% of the documents showing the government’s legal reasoning are sealed from the public.

On the heels of its investigation, the Journal filed legal motions in federal court in Texas to unseal some of these applications and orders, arguing that the First Amendment grants the public the right to access court records, including hearing transcripts, docket sheets, and search-warrant applications, and that electronic surveillance orders should be no different.

To read the story, click here. To learn how the Journal evaluated sealed surveillance orders, visit the Law Blog.

The Associated Press reports that the U.S. Agency for International Development was behind the creation of a “Cuban Twitter,” a social network designed to undermine the communist government and push Cubans toward dissent.

The project – called ZunZuneo – drew tens of thousands of subscribers in the more than two years in operated. American contractors were able to gather personal data on users.

According to the report, “The AP obtained more than 1,000 pages of documents about the project's development. It independently verified the project's scope and details in the documents through publicly available databases, government sources and interviews with those involved in ZunZuneo.”

Read the story here.

Use only as directed | ProPublica and This American Life
“About 150 Americans a year die by accidentally taking too much acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol. The toll does not have to be so high.” Read the stories from ProPublica.

Company Behind Snowden Vetting Did Check on D.C. Shooter | Bloomberg
“The U.S. government contractor that vetted Edward Snowden, who leaked information about national surveillance programs, said it also performed a background check on the Washington Navy Yard shooter.”

Archdiocese knew of priest's sexual misbehavior, yet kept him in ministry | Minnesota Public Radio
“A memo written in 2011 obtained by MPR News from police shows the former vicar general – the top deputy of the archdiocese – did not want parish employees to know about Wehmeyer's past. ‘At every step of the way, this could have been prevented,’ Haselberger said. ‘This is just failure after failure after failure after failure.’”

Insiders Allege Fraudulent Accounting at SamTrans | NBC Bay Area
“Insiders say they were asked to make changes to the San Mateo County Transit District’s financial records that they believe were illegal; they say SamTrans made up expenses to create the appearance it needed more taxpayer money.”

D.C. Fire Stations Near Navy Yard Understaffed in Shooting | NBC Washington
“News4 I-Team has learned some D.C. firehouses were understaffed during Monday morning's shooting at the Navy Yard. Twelve people were killed and eight others injured when 34-year-old Aaron Alexis opened fire inside Building 197 in Southeast D.C. around 8:30 a.m. Alexis was later shot and killed by police.”

Legal problems sent midwife to Utah, where another baby died | Salt Lake Tribune
“This is not the first time El Halta has been accused of straying beyond her expertise. It is not her first encounter with the law, nor her first delivery that ended with a death. But for decades she has remained committed to natural childbirth, and some clients say she has helped countless women avoid complicated surgeries and provided choice in births where hospitals may offer few options. ‘They’ll have to cut off my hands to stop me,’ he once told a Michigan newspaper.”

Metro Phoenix housing market’s turnaround creates new issues | Arizona Republic
Now, buyers and renters live in those places — in properties re-floored, repainted and relandscaped. The number of empty houses in the Phoenix area today stands at about 10,000, according to an Arizona Republic analysis of housing data.

Scoring errors jeopardize tests: Poor oversight raises risk | Atlanta Journal-Constitution
“It can mean the difference between college and a factory job; between scraping by and a chance for more. The former principal is still haunted by the few times he told parents their children wouldn’t receive a high school diploma because they had failed the exams.”

Carolinas HealthCare’s planes used for business, personal trips | Charlotte Observer
A Charlotte Observer story published Sunday revealed that the CEO of one of the nation's largest nonprofit hospital systems enjoys a rare perk: the freedom to fly hospital planes for both business and pleasure. Flight logs provided by Carolinas HealthCare System show that chief executive Michael Tarwater took at least 29 personal flights on the system’s planes from 2008 through 2012. Tarwater, an accomplished pilot, often flew hospital planes on business trips as well. Some experts believe the practice is rare – and questionable. “It seems inappropriate for them to use (planes) for personal purposes, given that they are being supported via tax exemption,” said Gerard Anderson, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Hospital Finance and Management. “So we are all paying for the vacation the CEO is taking.”

Lee Zurik Investigation: Hingle to jail, taxpayers pay him $400k | WVUE New Orleans
“Former Plaquemines Parish Sheriff Jiff Hingle surrendered himself Monday, reporting to a federal prison in South Carolina where he'll serve most of his nearly four-year sentence. And even while he's behind bars, the public will still be paying Hingle.”

UCI doctors downplayed risks of surgical robot | Orange County Register
“Two top UC Irvine surgeons have spent a decade working with a California company to promote a $2 million surgical robot despite a lack of reliable scientific evidence showing that it is safe or gives patients better results.”

Justice Dept. watchdog never probed judges' NSA concerns | USA Today
“In response to a FOIA request from USA TODAY, the Justice Department said its ethics office never looked into complaints from two federal judges that they had been misled about NSA surveillance.”

DeVry Lures Medical School Rejects as Taxpayers Fund Debt | Bloomberg Markets Magazine
“DeVry, which has two for-profit medical schools in the Caribbean, is accepting hundreds of students who were rejected by U.S. medical colleges. These students amass more debt than their U.S. counterparts -- a median of $253,072 in June 2012 at AUC versus $170,000 for 2012 graduates of U.S. medical schools.”

DWP says it can't track millions in ratepayer money | Los Angeles Times
“DWP ratepayer funds flow to two groups run by agency managers and union leaders, with little accountability.”

The Wall Street Journal reports: "National Security Agency officers on several occasions have channeled their agency’s enormous eavesdropping power to spy on love interests, U.S. officials said. The practice isn’t frequent — one official estimated a handful of cases in the last decade — but it’s common enough to garner its own spycraft label: LOVEINT."

A secretive U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration unit is funneling information from intelligence intercepts, wiretaps, informants and a massive database of telephone records to authorities across the nation to help them launch criminal investigations of Americans, according to a Reuters report.

“As the world focuses on the high-tech spying of the National Security Agency, (Leslie James Pickering's) misplaced card offers a rare glimpse inside the seemingly low-tech but prevalent snooping of the United States Postal Service," a New York Times report states.

In many ways, the new Utah Data Center is the quintessential black box. But a sharper picture of what is likely to go on within its walls has come into focus with recently leaked documents on NSA surveillance, combined with prior revelations, building specifics, information from defense contractors and hints dropped by top NSA brass, according to a report by The Salt Lake Tribune.

In this article published by The Guardian, the 29-year-old source behind the biggest intelligence leak in the NSA's history explains his motives, his uncertain future and why he never intended on hiding in the shadows. Read this IRE Transparency Watch report for more coverage of the NSA surveillance.

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