Privacy SOS

New documents show Massachusetts prosecutors conduct sweeping warrantless surveillance

Your phone records, showing whom you’ve called and texted, when, and how long the calls lasted. Your IP logs, showing where you access websites from—whether it’s home, work, a friend’s house, or on the go via your mobile phone. Your banking and credit card information. The email address you used to sign up for online services. Records showing every time you’ve logged on to your favorite social networking site, and how long those sessions lasted.

Prosecutors in Massachusetts can obtain all of this information and more without any judicial oversight. And a recent ACLU investigation shows they’re using this power extensively, and largely in the dark.

Documents obtained by the ACLU of Massachusetts through public records requests show state and local prosecutors issue thousands of warrantless surveillance demands each year. The letters, known as “administrative subpoenas,” don’t require any judicial oversight or probable cause to believe the target of the surveillance is involved in criminal activity. All the prosecutor has to do is fill out a piece of paper, swear the information sought is “relevant and material” to an ongoing criminal investigation, and send the demand letter to a telecom or internet company. Even worse, our investigation reveals that prosecutors in every county and the state AG ask recipients of the subpoenas not to notify the targets of the surveillance that law enforcement is asking for their information. That means most people monitored this way likely never find out the cops were digging around in their private information.

Worse still, the vast majority of Massachusetts District Attorneys refused to provide us with detailed information about how they use this expansive surveillance authority. Two DAs didn’t even bother responding to our requests. Two offices—the Middlesex County DA and the state AG—did provide us with the information we sought. Those records reveal that prosecutors are using these subpoenas in a wide range of investigations, from credit card fraud to drugs to larceny.

For more information, read our new white paper, “Inside Orders: Secrecy and Warrantless Surveillance in Massachusetts.”

© 2024 ACLU of Massachusetts.