Back in the beginning of August I wrote about “Four Little Words”, “electronic communication transactional records“, which the Obama administration wanted to add to the FBI’s ability to make it easier for the FBI to compel companies to turn over records of an individual’s Internet activity without a court order if agents deem the information relevant to a terrorism or intelligence investigation. The lawyers were claiming that this would not give them access to the content of the e-mail just access to the addresses to which an Internet user sends e-mail; the times and dates e-mail was sent and received; and possibly a user’s browser history. Sounds invasive? Well, it wasn’t good enough, either. Charles Savage reports in the New York Times that Federal law enforcement and national security officials want to make it easier to wiretap the Internet.
Essentially, officials want Congress to require all services that enable communications – including encrypted e-mail transmitters like BlackBerry, social networking Web sites like Facebook and software that allows direct “peer to peer” messaging like Skype – to be technically capable of complying if served with a wiretap order. The mandate would include being able to intercept and unscramble encrypted messages.
The bill, which the Obama administration plans to submit to lawmakers next year, raises fresh questions about how to balance security needs with protecting privacy and fostering innovation. And because security services around the world face the same problem, it could set an example that is copied globally.
The bill would also require Financial Institutions to report all electronic money transfers into and out of the country, no matter how small. Currently banks must report international money transfers of $10,000 or greater.
But critics have called it part of a disturbing trend by government security agencies in the wake of the 2001 attacks to seek more access to personal data without adequately demonstrating its utility. Financial institutions say that they already feel burdened by anti-terrorism rules requiring them to provide data, and that they object to new ones.
“These new banking surveillance programs are testing the boundaries of privacy,” said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center. “Many consumers both in the United States and outside are likely to object.”
“This regulation is outrageous,” said Peter Djinis, a lawyer who advises financial institutions on complying with financial rules and a former FinCEN executive assistant director for regulatory policy. “Consider me old-fashioned, but I believe you need to show some evidence of criminality before you are granted unfettered access to the private financial affairs of every individual and company that dares to conduct financial transactions overseas.”
Djinis said he does not think the department has made a case that it could analyze such volumes of data effectively or needs so much raw data. “It’s presumed that the information will be valuable in anti-terrorism activity,” he said. “We’re told, ‘Trust us. Once we get the data, we’ll determine what’s legal or not.’ ”
Marcy Wheeler points out that it may be the banks that bail us out of this further unfettered invasion of the government into our lives.
Any communication you make, any financial transaction you make, the Obama Administration thinks nine years after 9/11 is the time to demand such access.
I suspect it’s only the corporations can save us from this power grab. Not only are corporations doing business in the US not going to want all their transactions accessible by the government (we’ve already stolen enough corporate secrets), but banks aren’t going to want to track transactions at that level.