The New York Times reports that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and White House are about to reveal a
. . . plan for a sweeping overhaul of surveillance laws that would make it easier to wiretap people who communicate using the Internet rather than by traditional phone services, according to officials familiar with the deliberations.After Internet companies and the Commerce Department objected to an FBI proposal to update the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) by forcing companies to build-in wiretapping capabilities into Internet-based communications services, now the FBI is proposing instituting hefty fines if companies do not allow the FBI access to customers' data.
Aside from the valid concerns that the new proposal would stifle innovation and, as Center for Democracy and Technology's Greg Nojeim said, "render Internet communications less secure and more vulnerable to hackers and identity thieves,” expanding the FBI's surveillance powers would be yet another completely unnecessary compromise of Americans' privacy, a word that appeared once in the whole article. Considering how much surveillance power Congress has dished out to the Executive branch since 9/11, privacy should no longer be an afterthought when the FBI proposes gaining still more access to Americans' communications.
The FBI already has broad-ranging power to obtain information on Americans without court orders (such as using National Security Letters) or using a standard less than probable cause (such as Section 215 of the Patriot Act, for which the Justice Department has a secret twisted interpretation that likely allows bulk collection of Americans' communications). The Electronic Frontier Foundation objected to the first attempts to "modernize" CALEA, accurately pointing out that:
Existing laws already permit law enforcement to place Internet users under surveillance regardless of what programs or protocols they are using to communicate.If history is any lesson, when the Executive branch pushes to "modernize" a surveillance law, the result is a law like the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 (FAA), which legalized part of the NSA's previously illegal warrantless surveillance program. The FAA vastly expanded surveillance of Americans not suspected of any crime and retroactively immunized telecommunications companies who handed over customer data to the government in violation of FISA.
Meanwhile, while the White House and FBI propose more legal authority to collect Americans' data, former NSA crypto-mathematician Bill Binney has blown countless whistles warning that the NSA is already collecting and storing vast troves of Americans' data. Then-FBI Director Robert Mueller testified in March 2011 that the FBI already has access to databases that monitor domestic communications as they are happening:
We found that we could do a much better job at information sharing withIf Internet companies are hesitant to hand over customers' data to the government, perhaps it is because there is substantial evidence that the FBI has misused the surveillance powers it does have. (For example, see Justice Department Inspector General reports here and here.).
DOD . . . we have put into place technological improvements relating to the capabilities of a data base to pull together past e-mails and future ones as they come in so that it does not require an individualized search.
Even Americans who "have nothing to hide" should be wary of the government's aggressive unending quest to find easier and easier ways to collect Americans' online data.