ACLU’s Searchable NSA Document Database

The American Civil Liberties Union has created a searchable database of NSA documents released since June 2013 when selections from Edward Snowden’s massive cache of documents started being reported.

We have made all of the documents text-searchable to allow users to investigate particular key words or phrases. Alternatively, the filter function allows users to sort based on the type of surveillance involved, the specific legal authorities implicated, the purpose of the surveillance, or the source of the disclosure. For example, you can have the database return all documents that both pertain to “Section 215” and “Internal NSA/DOJ Legal Analysis.” We will update the database with new documents as they become available to the public

ACLU to Newspaper — Shut Up Already

The American Civil Liberties Union is once again demonstrating its committment to free speech by asking a judge to gag the Omaha World Herald. The Herald wants to publish the name of a man who sued Plattsmouth, Neb., over a Ten Commandments monument there. The ACLU, in turn, has suddenly got that old time prior restraint religion.

The ACLU claims that the man has received anonymous threats and publishing his name could subject him to further threats. But as Omaha World Herald executive editor Larry King notes,

King said The World-Herald is not at the point of publishing any article identifying the man. But if newspapers made publication decisions based on anonymous threats, King said, they would have to quit writing about “everyone from football coaches to politicians.”

“This is not a case in which an individual, through no fault or action of his own, found himself in the middle of a dispute,” King said. “This man is trying to force a city to make a controversial change it doesn’t want to make. If you want to change public policy, it should not be a surprise that you could be publicly identified.”

I guess the ACLU must still be stinging from its loss in its suit to protect the rights of teens to attend nudist camps without parental supervision.


ACLU requests restraint on press. Todd Cooper, Omaha World Herald, September 21, 2004.

Parental rule upheld for teen nudist camp. Associated Press, August 10, 2004.

Kerry vs. Ashcroft on Civil Liberties

Politics creates such odd matchups sometimes. Today it’s John Kerry promising not to let John Ashcroft destroy our civil liberties. But a decade ago, as Reason reminds us, it was Kerry who was trying desperately to restrict civil liberties while Ashcroft defended them,

This isn’t the first time Kerry and Ashcroft have been at odds over civil liberties. In the 1990s, government proposals to restrict encryption inspired a national debate. Then as now, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and electronic privacy groups locked horns with the DOJ and law enforcement agencies. Then as now, Kerry and Ashcroft were on opposite sides.

But there was noteworthy difference in those days. Then it was Sen. John Ashcroft (R-Mo.) who argued alongside the ACLU in favor of the individual’s right to encrypt messages and export encryption software. Ashcroft “was kind of the go-to guy for all of us on the Republican side of the Senate,” recalls David Sobel, general counsel of the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

And in what now seems like a bizarre parallel universe, it was John Kerry who was on the side of the FBI, the National Security Agency, and the DOJ. Ashcroft’s predecessor at the Justice Department, Janet Reno, wanted to force companies to create a “clipper chip” for the government—a chip that could “unlock” the encryption codes individuals use to keep their messages private. When that wouldn’t fly in Congress, the DOJ pushed for a “key escrow” system in which a third-party agency would have a “backdoor” key to read encrypted messages.

As late as 1997, Reason notes, Kerry was the first co-sponsor to John McCain’s Secure Public Networks Act which would have created a national key escrow registry and solidified the Clinton ban on encryption exports (they should have called this the Encourage Encryption Offshoring Act).

There’s also this Kerry response to a defense of strong encryption that appeared in Wired, in which Kerry alludes to those murder in the first World Trade Center attack and the Oklahoma City bombing,

[O]ne would be hard-pressed,” he wrote, “to find a single grieving relative of those killed in the bombings of the World Trade Center in New York or the federal building in Oklahoma City who would not have gladly sacrificed a measure of personal privacy if it could have saved a loved one.

I guess he actually voted in favor of sacrificing freedom for security before he voted against it.


John Kerry’s Monstrous Record on Civil Liberties. John Berlau, Reason, July 26, 2004.

Bill O’Reilly vs. ACLU Over Crosses on Los Angeles County Seal

Personally, the American Civil Liberties Union’s successful effort to force Los Angeles county to drop a small cross from its public seal is exactly the reason I would never even consider donating to that group.

In case you didn’t follow this controversy, the Los Angeles county seal is subdivided into an number of sections and one of those sections features a cross to signify the historic role that Catholic missionaries played in California’s history. According to the ACLU, however, the cross is offensive to non-Christians (though not offensive to this atheist or my Wiccan wife), and violates the separation of church and state. As my wife puts it, perhaps next the ACLU should go after numerous other examples of Christianity embedded in California municipalities,

After this they’ll want to change city names that harken back to the days of the Spanish missions to something less offensive to non-Catholics: Los Angeles … Santa Ana, Santa Barbara, San Bernardino, San Bruno, San Carlos, Santa Clara, San Clemente, Santa Cruz, Santa Clarita, San Diego, San Dimas, San Francisco, San Fernando, San Gabriel, San Joaquin, San Juan Bautista, San Jacinto, San Juan Capistrano, San Jose, San Anselmo, San Leandro, San Luis Obispo, San Mateo, Santa Monica, San Marcos, Santa Maria, San Marino, Santa Paula, San Pablo, San Rafael, San Ramon, Santa Rosa….Ah, I luve the smell of litigation in the morning!

It’s stupid crap like this cross case that will keep me from ever donating money to the ACLU.

Equally as dumb, however, was Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly. O’Reilly is like the conservative clone of Al Franken. If he’s got a good point, it’s not enough to make that point and move on. No, he has to stretch the point past the breaking point and into sheer lunacy. Here’s O’Reilly on the ACLU’s threatened lawsuit (emphasis added),

“Talking Points” wants you to know that we are rapidly losing freedom in America. Judges are overruling the will of the people, and fascist organizations like the ACLU are imposing their secular will.

Fascist organizations like the ACLU? What an idiot.


The O’Reilly Factor Transcript. June 2, 2004.