Sep 27 2010

“Four Little Words” Expanded: Up Dated with ACLU Response

(4 pm. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

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.’ ”

(emphasis mine)

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.

Up Date: From the ACLU

Administration Seeks Easy Access To Americans’ Private Online Communications

September 27, 2010

Executive Branch Spying Powers Already Too Broad, Says ACLU


CONTACT: (202) 675-2312 or [media@dcaclu.org] media@dcaclu.org

WASHINGTON – The Obama administration is seeking to expand the government’s ability to conduct invasive surveillance online, according to a report in The New York Times today. According to the report, the administration is expected to submit legislation to Congress early next year that would mandate that all online communications services use technologies that would make it easier for the government to collect private communications and decode encrypted messages that Americans send over texting platforms, BlackBerries, social networking sites and other “peer to peer” communications software.

The administration has argued that it is simply hoping to emulate the Communications Assistance to Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), which mandated that telephone companies rework their networks to be wiretap-ready. The administration’s proposal, however, differs from CALEA as it would require reconfiguring of the Internet to provide easier access to online communications. This is particularly problematic because many of the privacy protections that governed the government’s wiretapping powers when CALEA passed in 1994 no longer exist or have been significantly weakened.

For example, Congress has granted the executive branch virtually unchecked power to conduct dragnet collection of Americans’ international e-mails and telephone calls without a warrant or suspicion of any kind under the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 (FAA). The ACLU and the New York Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in July 2008 challenging the unconstitutional law, and the case is currently on appeal before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Today’s reported proposal would provide the apparatus for the government to implement its overbroad surveillance authority.

The following can be attributed to Christopher Calabrese, ACLU Legislative Counsel:

“Under the guise of a technical fix, the government looks to be taking one more step toward conducting easy dragnet collection of Americans’ most private communications. Mandating that all communications software be accessible to the government is a huge privacy invasion. With concern over cybersecurity at an all-time high, this proposal will create even more security risks by mandating that our communications have a ‘backdoor’ for government use and will make our online interactions even more vulnerable.

“Congress must reject the Obama administration’s proposal to make the Internet wiretap ready.”

For more information about the ACLU’s legal challenge to the FAA, go to: www.aclu.org/faa.

(emphasis mine)

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