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Big government's transformation into "big brother" takes another step forward

While warrantless surveillance is nothing new, modern technology is allowing a zealous U.S. government to utilize it in a more pervasive and Orwellian manner than ever before.  A former U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation agent recently acknowledged that the agency stores -- mostly without warrant -- all cellular and land-line phone calls in the U.S.  Likely archived as text, such a high-tech Big Brother scheme is only possible via advances like exabyte storage and advanced dictation software.

I. Ring, Ring It's the Police State (Now on VoIP) 

Now the Obama administration is preparing to expand the wiretap program yet further, moving to retrofit FBI rules to allow for warranted and warrantless wiretaps of voice-over internet protocol (VoIP) telephony conversations, according to a report in The New York Times. The plan was reportedly masterminded by FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, a top official in Obama's inner circle whose great-grandfather was a railroad tycoon.  Mr. Mueller reportedly complained that the agency's efforts to spy on Americans without warrant were "going dark" amid increasing VoIP use.

The original plan was to force every internet service provider (ISP) to develop its own capability to filter, duplicate, and archive a copy of VoIP traffic for government use.  Now the proposal has been changed to fine ISPs who don't comply with requests for data.

VoIP
The government may soon be able to spy on your voice-over IP calls.
[Image Source: Jon Ovington]

Writes the NYT report:

The difference, officials say, means that start-ups with a small number of users would have fewer worries about wiretapping issues unless the companies became popular enough to come to the Justice Department’s attention.

Of course that also means the U.S. Department of Justice becomes judge, jury, and executioner able to fine companies for "noncompliance" under a rather ambiguously defined set of rules.

The new plan is an extension of the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act of 1994 (18 USC § 2522), which requires landline and cellular carriers to develop similar wiretap capabilities.  While Congress has not yet passed a VoIP update to that law, that matters little as in recent years the executive branch has gained the power to effectively legislate via sweeping mandates.

Andrew Weissmann, the general counsel of the FBI, promised citizens that the new monitoring would mostly be used with warrant to fight "spies", "terrorists", and "suspected criminals".  He comments, "This doesn’t create any new legal surveillance authority.  This always requires a court order. None of the ‘going dark’ solutions would do anything except update the law given means of modern communications."

FBI masked agent
The FBI is pushing for a powerful new tool to spy on Americans. [Image Source: Alamy]

Under the current rules, agency officials say, ISPs can simply respond to court orders that they tried to wiretap and failed; now they will face stiff fines for such insubordinace.  Within the date of the requested surveillance the company has 30 days to comply with the police state's request.  If it does not, it faces fines of around $25,000 USD per day, per unfulfilled request.

II. Critics Pushed Aside

A former DOJ lawyer, Michael Sussman, says the proposal closely mirrors one from George Orwell's home nation, Britain.  The British law, the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act of 2000, institutes similar strict fines to guarantee prompt obedience.

Critics, though, say the plan could help hackers gain access to private information given the government's poor security track record, in addition to the obvious abuse of power concerns.  Comments Gregory T. Nojeim of the Center for Democracy and Technology, "I think the F.B.I.’s proposal would render Internet communications less secure and more vulnerable to hackers and identity thieves.  IIt would also mean that innovators who want to avoid new and expensive mandates will take their innovations abroad and develop them there, where there aren’t the same mandates."

The revised plan, though, does drop the most alarming provision of the original plan, which would effectively outlaw secure encryption, forcing all encryption to be carried out an ISP level with the ISP caching your key for later use.  With that provision dropped, encrypted conversations should still be safe from government spying, assuming sufficiently strong encrpytion methodology.

The Obama administration and the FBI first tried to sell Congress on the plan in 2010 and 2011.  But critics on both sides of the aisle, including Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Oreg.) and Mark Udall (D-Colo.) and Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) bucked the plan.  While most members of Congress support the current bipartisan majority view (that all human communications must be captured), many offered uncharacteristic resistance to the plan, as their corporate campaign donors (large tech firms) expressed wariness at the proposal whose costs would likely come out of their pockets.

President Obama
President Obama was frustrated by critics to his spying plan. [Image Source: AP]
 
But ultimately the Obama administration will likely look to silence the critics and implement the plan without Congressional authority.

Source: The New York Times



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This article is over a month old, voting and posting comments is disabled

I don't have anything to hide, but...
By Erudite on 5/8/2013 10:40:30 AM , Rating: 2
I don't think the government should be spying on me. Just because I don't see/hear them doing it doesn't mean it isn't an invasion of privacy. They don't need to know what I'm doing. If they think I'm doing something illegal, then they need to get a warrant to get the information they need. (Obviously, this isn't the way things work any more)

I'm pretty sure our founding fathers would be rolling in their graves if they knew the things our government is doing.




By BRB29 on 5/8/2013 11:08:10 AM , Rating: 2
It has been going on for a while. No one is listening to your convos either. They store it until they suspect you of something. It also can't be used in court. But I do agree it's not right to do this especially when privacy laws state it's illegal. I don't have all the statistics to judge whether this will benefit our safety more than what it cost in privacy. This is just my opinion.

Our founding fathers had slaves. They let businesses abuse workers for decades before doing anything about it. The law didn't need proof to kill someone even though the Bill of Rights was the same. Thomas Jefferson was known to have sex with his slaves. They let people get killed for witchcraft and do nothing about it. They allow caravans of prostitutes to trail behind a marching army. They had their set of problems in their times. They are not perfect just like us.


"A politician stumbles over himself... Then they pick it out. They edit it. He runs the clip, and then he makes a funny face, and the whole audience has a Pavlovian response." -- Joe Scarborough on John Stewart over Jim Cramer














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