The U.S. government is looking to make it easier to spy on its citizens online. It argues that increased police is needed to combat terrorism, even if it comes at the cost of its citizens' freedoms.  (Source: Warner Brothers)

The Obama administration, like its Republican predecessors, claim that sacrificing citizens' freedoms is necessary in the "war on terror".  (Source: Cyprus Now)
Big brother will soon have an easy window to watch you online, so don't step out of line

These days there's plenty of signs of slipping privacy and freedoms in the U.S.  Citizens in many areas are no longer allowed to photograph police officers on duty, to help prevent law enforcement officials from being exposed perpetrating malfeasance.  And a recent federal court ruling concluded that if you weren't wealthy enough to afford a fence, a gate, and other trappings, police can invade your property without warrant.

Unfortunately, under the Bush and Obama administrations, this trend has shown little signs of reversing.  The New York Times reported on Monday that officials in the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama are preparing a bill to be presented to the House next year, which is geared towards making it easier for the government to legally spy on U.S. citizens.

Under the bill all online communication services -- including video chat services (like Skype), social network services (like Facebook), and data/encrypted email service (like RIM's Blackberry packages) -- would be forced to comply with warrantless requests for information from the U.S. government -- similar to the warrantless wiretaps that recent legislation made legal in the U.S.

FBI lawyer Valerie E. Caproni insists that there's no harm in the provisions.  She states, "We're talking about lawfully authorized intercepts.  We're not talking about expanding authority. We're talking about preserving our ability to execute our existing authority in order to protect the public safety and national security."

Despite Ms. Caproni's insistence to the contrary, the proposal seems clearly designed to give the U.S. government expanded powers of surveillance.  In essence, it would provide easy access to monitoring certain channels which the government currently doesn't have easy access to.  This monitoring could make it easier to combat terrorism -- but it also opens the door for loss of privacy, suppression of dissent, and other evils, as depicted in popular works of fiction such as George Orwell's 1984 or Alan Moore's V is for Vendetta.

Further, the proposal could force companies like AOL and RIM to foot the bill for extensive logging, interception, and decrypting tools, which they don't currently have built into their networks.  Foreign businesses which operate within the U.S. (e.g. Nokia, Siemens, Nintendo, Sony, etc.) would also be forced to comply with information requests.  Thus the proposal could not only interfere with the free market in the U.S., but it could also impose a trade barrier.

And last of all the proposal is being used to provide another tool to combat peer-to-peer networks.  Peer-to-peer networks are often used to transfer pirated media, but they are also frequent used by universities and other organizations for legal file transfers.

Under the plan, all peer-to-peer networks would have to have to be redesigned to allow interception.  This would make most applications of P2P -- including legal ones -- prohibitively expensive.  Thus most peer-to-peer networks would be be rendered effectively illegal, a great victory for the entertainment industry's copyright watchdogs which the U.S. government has bowed to in recent years (with the help of millions in lobbyist spending).

Additionally, experts say that incorporating back doors and loopholes into secure services could open the door to privacy by malicious private sector entities, such as hackers.  This could make it easier to blackmail or steal private information from U.S. citizens.

The planned legislation is indicative of how the U.S. government is increasingly looking to follow the lead of nations like China and Saudi Arabia in controlling its nation's networks and performing surveillance on the users of those networks.

When facing the threat of terrorism, the U.S. and other nations are struggling to figure out how far to go to combat it.  The Bush administration and the Obama administration appear to believe that no sacrifice is to great in the "war on terror" even if that sacrifice is citizens' freedoms and privacies.  Thus the U.S., and others worldwide seem headed towards a future which would be viewed as strange and alarming by the more liberty-endowed citizens from decades prior.

"Nowadays you can buy a CPU cheaper than the CPU fan." -- Unnamed AMD executive

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