Wednesday, November 17, 2010

And The Hits Just Keep Coming

The FBI has a new plan for intruding into our internet privacy. In an attempt to drum up support for a proposal to expand a 1994 law on law enforcement access to private communications on the internet, FBI Director Robert Mueller has been visiting with companies in Silicon Valley.

From the New York Times:

Robert S. Mueller III, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, traveled to Silicon Valley on Tuesday to meet with top executives of several technology firms about a proposal to make it easier to wiretap Internet users.

Mr. Mueller and the F.B.I.’s general counsel, Valerie Caproni, were scheduled to meet with senior managers of several major companies, including Google and Facebook, according to several people familiar with the discussions. How Mr. Mueller’s proposal was received was not clear. ...

Mr. Mueller wants to expand a 1994 law, the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, to impose regulations on Internet companies.

The law requires phone and broadband network access providers like Verizon and Comcast to make sure they can immediately comply when presented with a court wiretapping order.

Law enforcement officials want the 1994 law to also cover Internet companies because people increasingly communicate online. An interagency task force of Obama administration officials is trying to develop legislation for the plan, and submit it to Congress early next year.
[Emphasis added]

Now, I understand the challenge which the new technologies present to law enforcement, and there are some good reasons for enabling law enforcement to meet those challenges as long as there are some safeguards in place. I'm not so certain that those safeguards are uppermost in the minds of the FBI and other law enforcement officials. After all, that "court wiretapping order" is quite often the rubberstamp edition issued by FISA, often after the wiretapping has already been done. The FBI, via its own internal audit, admits that the process was abused thousands of times during investigations. The FBI still loves those fishing expedition trips, and that is what concerns me.

It also concerns several other agencies within the government:

The Commerce Department and State Department have questioned whether it would inhibit innovation, as well as whether repressive regimes might harness the same capabilities to identify political dissidents, according to officials familiar with the discussions. [Emphasis added]

Those political dissidents need not be located in places like China, Myanmar, Saudi Arabia, or North Korea. They just might be located in places like Houston, Texas or Topeka, Kansas or Temple City, California. Those political dissidents might be complaining about all the broken promises of an elected official and plotting to unseat the incumbent by putting up a primary challenger. Or they might be planning a demonstration in Washington, DC to protest the ongoing military activities in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq. They might even be sharing plans for the construction of (gasp!) GIANT PUPPETS.

Unless any proposal to update the 1994 law also contains clear, unequivocal protections consistent with the Bill of Rights, it should be a non-starter. Should be, but somehow I doubt that will be the case.

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