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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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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.

"When an individual makes a copy of a song for himself, I suppose we can say he stole a song." -- Sony BMG attorney Jennifer Pariser

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