16 August 2010
This report came out in the Washington Post on July 29, 2010. The article, WHITE HOUSE PROPOSAL WOULD EASE FBI ACCESS TO RECORDS OF INTERNET ACTIVITY, reported that the Obama administration was attempting to make it easier for the FBI to force companies to turn over reports of an individual's Internet activity without a court order. Let me say that again. Without a court order.
The Obama adminstration is asking Congress to amend the ELECTRONIC COMMUNICATIONS PRIVACY ACT to include records of Internet activity during the upcoming fiscal year that begins October 1. The criteria for access would rest solely on the subjective judgement of FBI agents. Under this proposal, if an FBI agent believed he or she needed the information for an intelligence or terrorism investigation, then companies would have no choice to hand it over without a court order, warrant, your consent, or your knowledge. The demand for such information would not even have to come from FBI headquarters in Washington. Any FBI field office could do so on its own.
These requests, known as "national security letters", are made by the FBI routinely now. According to a 2008 inspector general report, the FBI issued 192,500 national security letters between 2003 and 2006. The report did not show how many of these letters were for Internet information. What the Obama administration wants to do is add the words "electronic communication transactional records" to the list of types of information the FBI can obtain through the use of national security letters.
While administration officials and lawyers insist that the content of a person's Internet activity records would not be included, the 2008 inspector general's report showed there were numerous possible violations of FBI regulations which included the issuance of national security letters without even having an approved investigation to justify it. In other words, information was obtained with either no investigation in progress, or an investigation that was being done with proper authority within the FBI. There were two cases that were found where information was requested that was not even permitted under Federal law. Imagine that.
Michael Sussman, an attorney for the U. S. Department of Justice under the Clinton administration, expressed concerns about the addition of the new language. Mr. Sussman said, "You're bringing a big category of data--records reflecting who someone is communicating with in the digital world, Web browsing history, and potentially location information--outside of judicial review." Kevin Bankston, a senior staff attorney with the ELECTRONIC FRONTIER FOUNDATION who filed a lawsuit against AT&T for assisting former President Bush in his "warrantless surveillance program" also has similar concerns. Mr. Bankston said, "Our biggest concern is that an expanded NSL power might be used to obtain Internet search queries and Web histories detailing every Web site visited and every file downloaded."
Now there you have major concerns about this proposal by two attorneys one of whom worked under a very liberal administration, and the other who filed a lawsuit opposing assistance given to the Bush administration' s Patriot Act. Not exactly Tea Partiers. In addition, the U. S. Department of Justice's own Office of Legal Counsel issued an opinion on November 5, 2008, which are binding on the Executive Branch, that stated the four current categories of information the FBI can obtain with national security letters was exhaustive. Those categories are name, address, length of service, and toll billing records.
I have an additional concern about this. Remember when the Department of Homeland Security's Janet Neopolitan issued a report last year that classified most Americans as threats to national security (see my post with complete details including a link to the report from April 16, 2009, click ENEMY OF THE STATE). If you believe in the Constitutional sovereignty of the states, oppose abortion, illegal immigration, and free trade agreements such as NAFTA (hey, the free trade thing includes a lot of you liberals!), oppose the expansion of entitlements, favor owning firearms to protect your family, stockpile food (which FEMA itself even says is a good idea in case of a natural disaster), or are a Christian, oppose the New World Order, then you are a "right-wing extremist" and a threat to national security. See how easy it would be for Big Brother to put you under the microscope for these security threats?
I wonder where the left's "hue and cry" is about this? The liberal left in this country yelled long and loud about the Bush administration's monitoring of telephone calls coming in to the Unite States originating in other countries from known terrorists and terrorist organizations. The leftists were on their soapboxes daily on every news network there was screaming ad nauseum, "We are a nation of laws!" But these same people are strangely silent now. It's been two weeks now since the story broke. If anything is being said at all, it is at nowhere near the level is was during the Bush administration. Double standard? Nah! What AM I thinking?