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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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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:

quote:
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
quote:
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
quote:
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.


"This week I got an iPhone. This weekend I got four chargers so I can keep it charged everywhere I go and a land line so I can actually make phone calls." -- Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg














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