Few would argue the need for the U.S. government to protect itself and critical domestic infrastructure from foreign attacks. And fewer still would debate whether our country should use high-tech surveillance to monitor countries like China and Russia that have shown a propensity to attack unprotected U.S. systems when they have the chance.More controversial, however, is the domestic spying efforts closely tied to the terrorism. Namely the National Security Agency (NSA), under the Patriot Act of 2001, was given the right warrantless wiretaps of calls between U.S. and foreign citizens. That alone was controversial enough, but an expose in The New York Times showed that domestic calls between two U.S. citizens were also being intercepted, in what the NSA dubbed an "accident".A special Obama administration task force consisting of U.S. Department of Justice, Department of Commerce, NSA, Federal Bureau of Investigations, local law enforcement, and more is looking to reinforce warrantless wiretap. The move is perhaps unsurprising, considering that the council shares many of the same experts that mastermind President George W. Bush's original Patriot Act.The group is proposing new legislation designed at reinforcing the Communications Assistance to Law Enforcement Act, a 1994 law published during the Clinton administration that demanded that telecommunications prepare to begin surveillance of suspects as soon as a court order is issued. Under the proposed changes, telecoms would be mandated to not only prepare for such instances, but also for warrantless wiretapping as spelled out under the Patriot Act. Those telecoms who complied fully would be rewarded with undisclosed incentives, while those who resist or were slow to comply would face fines or other penalties.Albert Gidari Jr., a lawyer who represents telecommunications firms, tells The New York Times that such legislation would be devastating to the civilian telecommunications industry. He states, "The government’s answer is 'don't deploy the new services — wait until the government catches up. But that’s not how it works. Too many services develop too quickly, and there are just too many players in this now."Previously detailed nuances of the plan call for the government also to gain new warrantless surveillance powers over other communications resources such as email (e.g. Gmail), text messages (including encrypted services, like RIM's), social networks (e.g. Facebook), and internet forums.Multiple issues surround the overarching proposal. One is in the potential economic damage it could cause the free market at a time when it is already struggling to recover.A second issue is perhaps the most critical one. Under current legal precedent, U.S. citizens can only have their Constitutional rights annulled if they are communicating with suspicious foreign citizens. However, to determine what users of foreign services are actually foreign citizens is almost impossible as foreign telecoms and internet firms have no real necessity to comply with U.S. requests for information. Thus U.S. citizens use foreign cell phones, operating on foreign web sites, or using foreign-based email services, may have their Constitutional rights violated even while communicating with other U.S. citizens.There is no clear solution to this problem.
quote: Imagine this scenario. Two users of foreign cell phones are calling one another. If the two users are Americans, their privacy is protected from wiretaps without warrants under both your scenario and the current law. But if they're two foreigners their privacy is NOT protected under either your scenario or the current law. The critical issue is that it's virtually impossible for the U.S. intelligence agencies to accurately determine what subscribers of foreign services are foreigners and which are U.S. citizens.