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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.

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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By Jim Vanus on 5/8/2013 10:58:47 AM , Rating: 5
The U.S. federal government was founded according to an extremely radical document, the U.S. Constitution, which limits that government to a few specific powers and reserves all others to the people and states.

All who favor a powerful centralized government began circumventing this radical document as soon as the ink of its signatures had dried.

Apparently the experiment of a all-powerful centralized government must be repeated again, as past experiments (U.S.S.R., Nazi Germany, Mao's China) haven't yet convinced mankind of this folly.

ALL communications are/will be recorded by the federal government. It's a done deal.

I protest it, I speak against it, but I know that this latest iteration of State versus the Individual must run its course. What will we learn this time?

RE: Radical
By BRB29 on 5/8/13, Rating: -1
RE: Radical
By Jim Vanus on 5/8/2013 11:22:15 AM , Rating: 5
If the Supreme Court was effective at protecting the Constitution from the other two branches of the federal government, it would have done so by now.

Having taken an oath to uphold the Constitution, why have U.S. Representatives and Senators continually passed unconstitutional laws for over 200 years?

The government defined by the Constitution requires the understanding of its participants in order to maintain its existence. That government no longer exists.

RE: Radical
By BRB29 on 5/8/2013 1:08:23 PM , Rating: 1
The Supreme Court cannot start a lawsuit. Someone has to do it. Right now, no one is stepping up to the plate.

RE: Radical
By Reclaimer77 on 5/8/2013 7:19:55 PM , Rating: 2
BRB are you honestly this naive?? These Executive Orders entirely circumvent Congress in the first place. Your first post is just....I'm just shocked that someone out there can look at everything we've seen under the last two Administrations and still have the opinions you do about our Government.

You have this almost child-like view of our Government, I honestly don't get it. Comments like this:

Right now, no one is stepping up to the plate.

Do you understand the power Obama is wielding here? Damn right nobody is going to "step up"! Stepping on a land mine would be safer.

RE: Radical
By Alexvrb on 5/8/2013 10:53:34 PM , Rating: 2
But ultimately the Obama administration will likely look to silence the critics and implement the plan without Congressional authority.
Ah, good old "Plan A". You don't even have to be 15 years old to "get" it.

RE: Radical
By amelia321 on 5/9/13, Rating: -1
RE: Radical
By BRB29 on 5/10/2013 8:25:00 AM , Rating: 2
If you don't see the problem then I'll explain it to you this one time. Going to personal insults does not prove your point.

The problem is the people. The vast majority of voters vote for the guy that say things they like to hear. The guy with the big campaign. The guy that is unrealistic but everything he says sounds awesome. They don't realize he's full of lies. His campaign is funded by interest groups(wealthy people and large corporations). So obviously, they want your vote and the rich people's money. Whose agenda do you think they'll follow an fulfill?

Normally, the guy running with a realistic agenda and "unoptimistic" view of the situation and promises gets almost 0 votes. People just don't want to hear the truth because it's mostly ugly.

People vote for parties and not politicians. Everyone I saw at the voting booth go all Dem or Rep. They don't even know most of the candidates they vote for. It's sad when you walk in and you can go left(dem) or right(rep). It's set up so people can easily vote for one party only and most people will do it blindly.

Now look at our results, we got grown men in huge political parties creating high school drama in the government that affects all of our lives. You can say "Obama reign of terror....GOP this...and Liberals that...." Guess what? people put them in power. We all demanded change but no one wanted to do something about it. These politicians just run up and say "I promise you change" then do the same old sh1t the rest of them do.

I'm not biased towards the government or any party. I don't care what they promise. I only care that their actions have legitimate purposes and moral values. I'm giving you the truth from what I know working in the government. These articles are often wrong or extremely biased. Most of the government is honest and wants to do the right thing. The sad thing is, the few bad seeds are the ones in power. If they don't have direct control of an agency or department, then they will still get their way through budget. Our budget are broken down into funding per activity. For example, if they don't want us to prove that fracking is bad/good, then they don't approve the funding for fracking. It's that simple.

Please, research who you vote and don't be bought by a campaign. I don't even know why people listen to that crap. Most of the ads are bashing each other.

RE: Radical
By boeush on 5/8/2013 8:35:04 PM , Rating: 3
Having taken an oath to uphold the Constitution, why have U.S. Representatives and Senators continually passed unconstitutional laws for over 200 years?
Because there is no "or else" clause in that oath. If an act of knowingly proposing or voting for an unconstitutional law was constitutionally defined as a felony leading to immediate loss of office, a massive fine, several years of prison time, and a perpetual prohibition from participation in any government or lobbying offices... then perhaps we wouldn't have seen CONgress act the way it does.

RE: Radical
By Ammohunt on 5/8/2013 11:50:27 AM , Rating: 3
It all fell apart when the federalists got their way. The Constitution intentionally setup a decentralized government with power given to the states. When we lost the civil war a central federal government was established which led us to where we are now. We haven't had a constitutional government as the framers intended for quite some time.

RE: Radical
By Jim Vanus on 5/8/2013 3:14:50 PM , Rating: 2

Sad, but true. People try to frame the problem in political terms but it comes down to who understands the principles embodied in the Constitution and who doesn't. In order to preserve a Constitutional government, the majority of us would have to have a good understanding of the Constitution.

There is nothing in the Constitution that allows warrantless searches, seizure of property without due process, federalized public education, regulation of firearms ownership, agriculture, healthcare or redistribution of property.

AFAIK, all of the above have been challenged in court and all were decided in favor of the government.

Unlike in colonial times when colonists were as well or better armed than the British, the idea of citizen resistance to unconstitutional laws is impractical due to the superior armament of government agents.

Unless more liberty-minded individuals are elected to Congress, to the Presidency and appointed as judges, there's no turning back on the road we're on, so we'll just have to see where all of this leads.

RE: Radical
By Reclaimer77 on 5/8/2013 7:44:11 PM , Rating: 3
"If the personal freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution inhibit the government's ability to govern the people, we should look to limit those guarantees."

-Bill Clinton-

I can find no greater quote that so succinctly states the intentions of these people.

RE: Radical
By craniumbox on 5/8/2013 11:29:09 PM , Rating: 2
Your Country needs to stop voting fukctards with the most political campaign money into office. All that guarantees is that they have people pulling their strings. Start voting for the guys who pay for their own campaigns or have little from donors. They are the ones who would probably change your country.

RE: Radical
By Cerin218 on 5/10/2013 6:18:10 PM , Rating: 2
"We have given you a Republic... If you can keep it" -Ben Franklin

RE: Radical
By nick2000 on 5/9/2013 12:05:57 AM , Rating: 2
When *we* lost the civil war? So your flag is the "stars and bars" as opposed to the Stars and Stripes of George Washington?

The framers of the constitution made the federal government strong because they had seen how the articles of confederations created a gigantic mess. Without this, the United States would never have survived.

RE: Radical
By Skywalker123 on 5/9/2013 4:47:40 AM , Rating: 2
Thankfully, we killed 600k people to ensure the survival of the federal government. I think america would still be here regardless of the goverment.

RE: Radical
By Ammohunt on 5/9/2013 12:18:13 PM , Rating: 2
Hardly <rolls eyes> I am not from a southern state nor do i live in the south; its always about race with you people isn't it? The civil war was about states rights not slavery.

Confederation under the original constitution was perfectly legal since the states had all the power in hte original design. With the establishment of the federal government(union) after the civil war all the power the states previously held was usurped(the winners wrote the history) and the final nail in the coffin was hammered in under FDR; income taxes and establishment of the welfare state.

RE: Radical
By Motoman on 5/8/2013 12:01:13 PM , Rating: 5
Congress is made up of Representatives and Senators based on selections provided by 2 non-governmental agencies, and paid for by special interest groups and major corporations.


2 major steps have to happen in order to have meaningful reform in the government:

1. Outlaw political parties
2. Outlaw lobbying
2a. ...including corporate/special interest donations to campaign funds.

After #1, voters will actually have to pay attention to each candidate, research that candidate, and make an informed decision based on each candidate's individual merits. Also, these 2 non-governmental agencies will no longer have official positions in Washington like Majority Whip and Minority whatever.

After #2, elected officials will no longer have any reason to pay more attention to special interest groups/corporations above and beyond what attention they give their constituents. If the one and only place an elected official gets money is from their official government paycheck, then it puts all citizens, groups, companies, etc. on even ground. Elected officials just might actually listen to their constituents, and seek to simply do the right thing while in opposed to maximizing the graft they get from special interest groups and corporations.

RE: Radical
By ritualm on 5/8/2013 12:06:15 PM , Rating: 2
Too bad that #1 will never happen, short of an act of God, as it literally demands that the political parties "cut the hands that feed them".

RE: Radical
By Dug on 5/8/2013 12:12:08 PM , Rating: 2
YOU ARE CORRECT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

RE: Radical
By Jeffk464 on 5/8/2013 12:25:27 PM , Rating: 2
1. Outlaw political parties 2. Outlaw lobbying 2a. ...including corporate/special interest donations to campaign funds.

Absolutely, we have to get money out of politics. Most of what goes on in our elections would be illegal in the rest of the Western world.

RE: Radical
By BRB29 on 5/8/2013 1:06:40 PM , Rating: 2
#1 will not happen for the vast majority of people

People like to complain when their life sucks but won't do a simple thing like research before they vote.

#2 You can outlaw both of these and they will still find ways around it. You really can't stop anyone from receiving an anonymous gift. But at least outlawing them will send a clear message that people are watching their politics.

But you pretty much figured out all the corruptions in our government. It's always about money in the end. Everyone is fighting to keep their power and gain more of it. The only part of the government that is not corrupt is in the science research. But they are still being controlled through funding. You can't prove fracking is bad when you don't get any funding to do it.

RE: Radical
By Motoman on 5/8/2013 2:00:44 PM , Rating: 2
If #1 happened, they'd have to. Or just not participate in the process...which would probably result in higher-quality people being elected anyway. One major problem with democracy (nee republics) is that if the people are stupid, you get bad people elected into office. And we are pretty f%cking stupid, as a whole. "Hey, I'm a black woman working in a minimum-wage basic service job - that means I'm a Democrat, right?" <checks all the Democrat boxes without even bothering to do so much as read the candidate's names>

And to be fair to the other side: "Hey, I'm a rich white man who owns several businesses and attends a Christan church once in a while...that makes me a Republican, right?" <checks all the Republican boxes without even bothering to do so much as read the candidate's names>

We're so stupid as to believe the notion that there's only 2 valid options to any given issue in the first place...there's a Democrat view, and a Republican view. How could there possibly be any other viewpoints?

Democracy: a system by which the people are guaranteed a government no better than they deserve.

RE: Radical
By BRB29 on 5/8/2013 2:43:08 PM , Rating: 3
I've been saying this for years. The party system is whacked. The irony is that they've both done a complete 180 on their party platform.

Every time I see "liberals this" "Republicans that", it's disappointing. If you vote to elect your representative in the government then make sure his/her principles and agenda aligns with yours. People seem to vote on a whim based on what they hear on the radio, church, facebook etc...

Have anyone seen Idiocracy?

RE: Radical
By Fujikoma on 5/8/2013 1:09:41 PM , Rating: 2
Ignorant solutions from someone who needs to take some entry level college classes on government (political science).
1. Political parties are fine. It's the current system of state sponsorship (i.e. paying for inner party elections) and the exclusion of third party candidates, who are on the ballet, from debates. The other aspect is to reform gerrymandering and institute changes to how ballots list candidates (name order rotation). Limiting individual donations (partially implemented) and completely removing corporate donations would round this out.
2. Lobbying is fine and Constitutionally protected for citizens (Amendment 1 - petition the government). It's the financial tie-in that is the problem. Either limit or eliminate the money funneling. Removing political parties will not solve your problem, it will entrench the problem even more.
2a. This one makes sense if it's limited to removing the payout. Companies and special interests groups have multiple reasons to be heard by the government which are very valid. Companies have only one motivating factor, and that is to make money. People have additional motivating factors, such as societal health and well being.

RE: Radical
By Motoman on 5/8/2013 1:55:19 PM , Rating: 2
Ignorant solutions from someone who needs to take some entry level college classes on government (political science).


Jonestown inhabitant: "hey, you can't judge the koolaid thing unless you drink some koolaid first!"


Political parties *aren't* fine. Removing them from the system fixes vast amounts of problems and introduces no new ones. Forcing voters to actually pay attention to the process and become a functional part of it is win-win.

Lobbying without the "financial tie-in" isn't lobbying anymore. Forget limiting the money funneling - ban it entirely.

That way, everyone who talks to ("petitions") the govnerment is on equal footing, and elected officials have no monetary incentive to do anything other than "the right thing." Including pressure from their affiliated political party.

RE: Radical
By Reclaimer77 on 5/8/2013 7:31:48 PM , Rating: 2
2 major steps have to happen in order to have meaningful reform in the government: 1. Outlaw political parties 2. Outlaw lobbying 2a. ...including corporate/special interest donations to campaign funds.

You're daft lol.

None of these would actually "reform" our Government. Much less return us back to the Constitutional Republic as was intended.

Dude you didn't even put term limits on your list. That would probably go further than the rest in fixing this mess.

Your #1 pretty much destroys the Constitution, especially the First Amendment that I couldn't support it no matter what the gains. If you can outlaw political parties, you can outlaw any other free organizing of individuals for a common goal. Hello?? This is killing the patient to kill the cancer!

#2 isn't even remotely enforceable. Every time I point this out, you ignore me. But how exactly are we going to "outlaw" things to people who are demonstrably above the law? Repeat, these people are above the law. They break the law on a daily basis, and nobody does a thing about it.

It's one thing to be passionate about issues, but please don't sit here and tell us fixing your pet issues would "reform" our entire Government. How about term limits, there should be NO "career politicians" at the Federal level? Or ending "baseline budgeting"? Or outright removing about 75% of all Federal level mandates in existence and return the power back to the States/People? Something along those lines.

RE: Radical
By ritualm on 5/8/2013 12:01:20 PM , Rating: 2
How can you say this when all laws are made by Congress. Congress is made up of Representatives and Senators from each State.

This can be taken to the Supreme Court and declared unconstitutional if someone has the balls to do it.

How can you say this when all of the most current laws are made by bought-off Democrats and Republicans, regardless of state.

Supreme Court challenges are nothing. You cannot stop most Executive Orders coming directly from the White House, never mind the flow of millions of lobbyist money, even if you have the military might to do it.

RE: Radical
By marvdmartian on 5/9/2013 8:42:45 AM , Rating: 1
Guess you've been missing the King's, I mean, the President's EXECUTIVE ORDERS.....that Mr Obama has been so fond of during his reign??

"Congress won't pass my bills, the Constitution says I can't do it....never mind, I'll issue an executive order!!"

RE: Radical
By Jeffk464 on 5/8/2013 12:33:20 PM , Rating: 2
It seems to me we need to start leaving services of American companies who are obligated to the US government. I already made the switch from using american search engines to ixquick who believes in a more european privacy model. Anyone know of any european based VoIP programs?

RE: Radical
By Cerin218 on 5/10/2013 6:15:03 PM , Rating: 2
We will learn the same thing we learn every time.

What we learn from history, is that we learn nothing from history.

From what I have seen of this country there are three types of citizen;

those that value and cherish their freedom and understand what that freedom means and the cost.

Those that want NO responsibility for their individual existence and are completely happy to trade their freedom for perceived security and trust that the government has their well being in mind.

And those that just don't give a crap WHAT is going on either way.

Simpler, we have individualists, collectivists, and apathists. The first two are opposing viewpoints and the third doesn't matter. Unfortunately the collectivists are winning. And with leaders like Bush and Obama we will soon be the New World Order.

"There's no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance." -- Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer

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