Administration Seeks Easy Access To Americans' Private Online Communications

September 27, 2010 3:09 pm

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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:

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