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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 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.

"So if you want to save the planet, feel free to drive your Hummer. Just avoid the drive thru line at McDonalds." -- Michael Asher

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