White House proposal would ease FBI access to records of Internet activity
The Obama administration is seeking 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 administration wants to add just four words — “electronic communication transactional records” — to a list of items that the law says the FBI may demand without a judge’s approval. Government lawyers say this category of information includes 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. It does not include, the lawyers hasten to point out, the “content” of e-mail or other Internet communication.
But what officials portray as a technical clarification designed to remedy a legal ambiguity strikes industry lawyers and privacy advocates as an expansion of the power the government wields through so-called national security letters. These missives, which can be issued by an FBI field office on its own authority, require the recipient to provide the requested information and to keep the request secret. They are the mechanism the government would use to obtain the electronic records.
Stewart A. Baker, a former senior Bush administration Homeland Security official, said the proposed change would broaden the bureau’s authority. “It’ll be faster and easier to get the data,” said Baker, who practices national security and surveillance law. “And for some Internet providers, it’ll mean giving a lot more information to the FBI in response to an NSL.”
Many Internet service providers have resisted the government’s demands to turn over electronic records, arguing that surveillance law as written does not allow them to do so, industry lawyers say. One senior administration government official, who would discuss the proposed change only on condition of anonymity, countered that “most” Internet or e-mail providers do turn over such data.
To critics, the move is another example of an administration retreating from campaign pledges to enhance civil liberties in relation to national security. The proposal is “incredibly bold, given the amount of electronic data the government is already getting,” said Michelle Richardson, American Civil Liberties Union legislative counsel.
The critics say its effect would be to greatly expand the amount and type of personal data the government can obtain without a court order. “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,” said Michael Sussmann, a Justice Department lawyer under President Bill Clinton who now represents Internet and other firms.
The use of the national security letters to obtain personal data on Americans has prompted concern. The Justice Department issued 192,500 national security letters from 2003 to 2006, according to a 2008 inspector general report, which did not indicate how many were demands for Internet records. A 2007 IG report found numerous possible violations of FBI regulations, including the issuance of NSLs without having an approved investigation to justify the request. In two cases, the report found, agents used NSLs to request content information “not permitted by the [surveillance] statute.”
One issue with both the proposal and the current law is that the phrase “electronic communication transactional records” is not defined anywhere in statute. “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,” said Kevin Bankston, a senior staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which has sued AT&T for assisting the Bush administration’s warrantless surveillance program.
He said he does not object to the government obtaining access to electronic records, provided it has a judge’s approval.
Senior administration officials said the proposal was prompted by a desire to overcome concerns and resistance from Internet and other companies that the existing statute did not allow them to provide such data without a court-approved order. “The statute as written causes confusion and the potential for unnecessary litigation,” Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd said. “This clarification will not allow the government to obtain or collect new categories of information, but it seeks to clarify what Congress intended when the statute was amended in 1993.”
The administration has asked Congress to amend the statute, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, in the fiscal year that begins in October.
Administration officials noted that the act specifies in one clause that Internet and other companies have a duty to provide electronic communication transactional records to the FBI in response to a national security letter.
But the next clause specifies only four categories of basic subscriber data that the FBI may seek: name, address, length of service and toll billing records. There is no reference to electronic communication transactional records.
Same as phone records?
The officials said the transactional information at issue, which does not include Internet search queries, is the functional equivalent of telephone toll billing records, which the FBI can obtain without court authorization. Learning the e-mail addresses to which an Internet user sends messages, they said, is no different than obtaining a list of numbers called by a telephone user.
Obtaining such records with an NSL, as opposed to a court order, “allows us to intercede in plots earlier than we would if our hands were tied and we were unable to get this data in a way that was quick and efficient,” the senior administration official said.
But the value of such data is the reason a court should approve its disclosure, said Greg Nojeim, senior counsel at the Center for Democracy and Technology. “It’s much more sensitive than the other information, like name, address and telephone number, that the FBI gets with national security letters,” he said. “It shows associational information protected by the First Amendment and is much less public than things like where you live.”
A Nov. 5, 2008, opinion from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, whose opinions are binding on the executive branch, made clear that the four categories of basic subscriber information the FBI may obtain with an NSL were “exhaustive.”
This opinion, said Sussmann, the former Clinton administration lawyer, caused many companies to reevaluate the scope of what could be provided in response to an NSL. “The OLC opinion removed the ambiguity,” he said. “Providers now are limited to the four corners of what the opinion says they can give out. Those who give more do so at their own risk.”
Marc Zwillinger, an attorney for Internet companies, said some providers are not giving the FBI more than the four categories specified. He added that with the rise of social networking, the government’s move could open a significant amount of Internet activity to government surveillance without judicial authorization. “A Facebook friend request — is that like a phone call or an e-mail? Is that something they would sweep in under an NSL? They certainly aren’t getting that now.”
By Ellen Nakashima
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 29, 2010; A01
Source: The Washington Post
Change we can believe in:
– SEC Says New Financial Regulation Law Exempts it From Public Disclosure, incl. FOIA!!!
– Nancy Pelosi Blocks Gulf Disaster Investigation
– And Now ObamaService? H.R. 5741: Universal National Service Act
– Obama Bankster Bill Lets Banks Have US Over A Barrel Again
– Obamacare: Gold Coin Sellers Angered by New Tax Law
– GLOBE MAGAZINE: OBAMA BORN IN AFRICA! WHY HIS PRESIDENCY IS ILLEGAL
– Rep. Michele Bachmann: Obama Is Making The US ‘A Nation Of Slaves’
– General James Mattis who said it was ‘fun to shoot people’ takes over US Central Command
– EU gives US access to its citizens’ private financial data
– Obama Administration To Sue Arizona Over Immigration Law
– Dylan Ratigan Show: President Obama ‘Has A Hit List Of American Citizens Like YOU targeted For Assassination’
– Third US carrier, 4,000 Marines augment US armada opposite Iran
– Now truth is bad for you: ‘Obama warns Erdogan international Gaza flotilla probe bad for Turkey’
– Obama Internet ‘Kill Switch’ Approved By Senate Committee
– Americans buying their own health insurance face an average 20 percent increase in premiums
– Big Brother DHS And DOD Want To Open US Skies To Spy Drones
– President Obama Has Already Outdone Every Previous President In Prosecuting Whistleblowers
– US government debt to rise to $19.6 trillion by 2015
– Left-Wing Icon Daniel Ellsberg: ‘Obama Deceives the Public’
– US: $13 Trillion Debt Poised to Overtake GDP (Chart of Day)
– 10 US States Where An Absurd Percentage Of The Population Works For The Government
– US ’secret war’ expands globally as Special Operations forces are deployed in 75 countries
– Paul Craig Roberts: A Plague Upon The World: The USA is a “Failed State”
– President Obama’s New World Order: ‘We have to shape an international order that can meet the challenges of our generation’
– President Obama Wins The Right to Detain People With No Habeas Review
– US government can execute its own citizens far from a combat zone, with no judicial process and based on secret intelligence!
– US posts 19th straight monthly budget deficit; April deficit nearly four times higher than in 2009
– Hyperfast missile to strike anywhere on Earth within an hour wins President Obama’s support
– President Obama Repaying His Masters At Goldman Sachs
– Marriage Penalties Increase Dramatically Under ObamaCare
– The No.1 Trend Forecaster Gerald Celente on ObamaCare, Dollar Devaluation And Gold
– Peter Schiff on ObamaCare
– Rep. Ron Paul: President Obama Is ‘Not A Socialist.’ ‘He Is A Corporatist.’
– Dylan Ratigan Show With Alan Grayson: The Great Con Job By The Fed, The Government And The Banksters
– Michelle Obama says Barack’s Home country is Kenya – full statement
– Obama Administration Approves Targeted Killing of American Cleric
– Judge Napolitano on Obama’s Private Army
– Obama Gives Key Agriculture Post to Lobbyist of CropLife America Whose Members Include Monsanto, Syngenta, DuPont and Dow Chemical
– Obama Gives ‘Pesticide Lobbyist’ Post as Chief Agricultural Negotiator
– It’s Official: America Now Enforces Capital Controls
– Rep. Ron Paul: Healthcare Will Drive US To Bankruptcy
– Gerald Celente: This time they will close the Banks & Wall Street (03/27/10)
– John Pilger: Have a Nice World War III, Folks
– Ron Paul on MSNBC’s Morning Joe: We have only one party in America and all they fight over is power and influence
– The War on WikiLeaks … and Why It Matters
– White House Press Corps longest-serving member Helen Thomas on her one question for Obama
– Obamacare: 12 Taxes Violate Obama’s Pledge Not to Increase Taxes on Households Earning Less than $250,000
– Obama exempt from Obamacare
– Joe Biden to Barack Obama: ‘Mr. President, This Is A Big F****** Deal’
– Rep. Ron Paul: Healthcare Bill is ‘Blatantly Unconstitutional And Contrary to The Ideals of Liberty’
– US: THE Most Important Chart of the CENTURY
– Health Care Bill ‘Dangerously Expands IRS’s Power’
– US Government Preparing For Civil Unrest In America
– Obamacare Tax Hikes
– Record: National Debt Up $2 Trillion in Just 421 Days on Obama’s Watch
– Obama agencies invoking secrecy provision more often than under Bush
– US budget deficit hits record $221bn, the largest monthly deficit in history
– Michael Moore: ‘Democrats are a bunch of wusses … It’s disgusting … I’m sick of them’
– President Obama signs one-year extension of Patriot Act
– Cybersecurity Bill To Give President Obama New Emergency Powers
– Obama Administration Using Accounting Gimmicks That Would Make Enron ‘Blush,’ Says Republican Lawmaker
– Judge Napolitano and Angela Keaton on Freedom Watch: Obama’s Bush Foreign Policy
– Obama Signs Law Raising Public Debt Limit from $12.4 Trillion to $14.3 Trillion
– Cynthia McKinney at Munich Germany NATO Peace Rally: ‘My Country Has Been Hijacked By A Criminal Cabal’
– President Obama’s Pledge Never to Raise Taxes on Anyone Making Less Than $250,000 a Year
– Rep. Alan Grayson: ‘20 Percent Of Our Accumulated Wealth Over The Course Of 2 Centuries Gone in 18 months!’
– Paul Craig Roberts: It Is Now Official: The U.S. Is A Police State
– Prof. Russell Roberts Testifies Before House Committee: ‘I Want My Country Back!’
– Director of National Intelligence Says US May Kill Americans Abroad
– President Obama Ups Pakistan Drone Strikes in Assassination Campaign
– The New Vision of the Obama Administration: War Without End
– Pentagon’s New Record Black Budget Tops $56 Billion
– MSNBC Exposes President Obama’s lies: FED GAVE Banks Access to 23.7 TRILLION DOLLARS NOT $700 Billion!
– Rep. Ron Paul on Obama seeking to assassinate ‘US citizens’ he labels as terrorist
– White House to Paint Grim Fiscal Picture: Another Record Budget Deficit
– US: GDP Mirage – The Last Hurrah
– Marc Faber: Obama Makes Bush Look Like a Genius
– Obamanomics: Why Did the ‘Stimulus’ Fail to Help the US Economy?
– Paul Craig Roberts: How Wall Street Destroyed Health Care – Greed, Be Thou My God
– President Obama to indefinitely imprison detainees without charges
– Ron Paul: US Foreign Policy is Bankrupting America
– Rep. Ron Paul: State of the Republic Address – ‘Dangerous Times Indeed.’
– America’s Impending Master Class Dictatorship! (MUST-READ!)
– The CFR Controls American News/Media
– Senate Proposes Increasing US Debt Limit to $14.3 Trillion: “If Congress does not enact this legislation, and soon, then the Treasury would default on its debt for the first time in history,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus
– US: Unfunded Benefits Dig States’ $3 Trillion Hole
– Illinois enters a state of insolvency: ‘We’re close to de facto bankruptcy, if not de jure bankruptcy.’
– The No.1 Trend Forecaster Gerald Celente: Financial Mafia Controlling US and Wall Street
– Peter Schiff: The Lunacy of US Government Programs
– Former Dean of Harvard College Harry R. Lewis: Larry Summers, Robert Rubin: Will The Harvard Shadow Elite Bankrupt The University And The Country?
– Experts: Dollar Crisis Looms if US Doesn’t Curb Debt
– Marc Faber on Coming Sovereign Debt Crisis: Next Countries to Default are the US, Japan and the ‘PIIGS’
– Nobel Peace Laureate Obama seeks additional $33 billion for wars, on top of a record request for $708 billion for the Defense Department
– Fitch: US Must Cut Spending To Save AAA Rating; US December Deficit Nearly Doubles
– The Coming Sovereign Debt Crisis
– US slides deeper into depression as Wall Street revels
– PIMCO’S Bill Gross: ‘Let’s Get Fisical’ (… or why the US will not make it.)
– Barack Obama’s Health Care Lies And Reversals
– US sheds 85,000 jobs in December; Record 40% Of Unemployed Without Job For 27+ Weeks
– Peter Schiff on Fast Money: ‘America is broke’; ‘The Fed created a currency crisis’; ‘Dollar to collapse 50-70% or more’
– US: Public Pensions Face $2 Trillion Deficit
– U.S. Avoids Technical Default By Three Days
– As an American, I refuse to buy mandatory health insurance … that supports Big Pharma
– The US Government Is Preparing For Collapse: Your Legal Right To Redeem Your Money Market Account Has Been Denied
– Prof. Dr. David Michael Green: Now I’m Really Getting Pissed Off … With Obama
– US Treasuries Post Worst Performance Among Sovereign Markets In 2009
– US losses will top $400 billion on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac
– US: More Ammo For The Treasury Bazooka
– US government wants farmers to use coal waste on fields
– The No.1 Trend Forecaster Gerald Celente: The Terror And The Crash of 2010
– We’re Screwed! Hyperinflation like in the Weimar Republic; Great Depression worse than in the 1930s
– US Congress: Banksters Get $4 Trillion Gift From Barney Frank
Traitor in chief:
– Treason: Obama gives INTERPOL immunity from the Constitution (Amending Executive Order 12425)
– Peter Schiff on Obamacare, Freddie Mac & Fannie Mae: The Nightmare Before Christmas
– Obama administration backs Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac no matter how big their losses may be
– Rep. Dennis Kucinich: US War Presidents ignore Congress and Constitution
– Obamacare: Big payoffs to senators on health bill stoke public anger
– US: Trillions Of Troubles Ahead
– Chinese central banker Zhu Min: ‘The world does not have so much money to buy more US Treasuries.’
– Obamacare: Change Nobody Believes In
– Obama’s surge comes at a cost: At least $57,077.60 per minute
– US National Debt Tops Debt Limit
Hypocrite in Chief (Funny):
– President Obama: Another Busy Day in The Oval Office!
– Fascism in America: By Political Definition The US Is Now Fascist, Not A Constitutional Republic
– John Williams of Shadowstats: Prepare For The Hyperinflationary Great Depression
Liar in Chief (NOT funny!!!):
– Barack Obama Lies 7 Times In Under 2 Minutes!!!!!
– Robert Fisk, The Independent’s award-winning Middle East correspondent: Obama is a Disaster, Worse than Bush
– Rep. Dennis Kucinich: ‘These Wars Are Corrupting The Heart Of Our Nation!’
– Famous Investor Jim Rogers: Incompetence In Washington, Abolish The Fed And The Treasury
– Rep. Dennis Kucinich: The Truth About Afghanistan
– Obama’s Big Sellout (Rolling Stone Magazine)
– Obama administration to lift debt ceiling by $1.8 trillion
– Climategate: President Obama’s rule by EPA decree is a coup d’etat against Congress, made in Britain
– Obama administration tells Pakistan: Tackle Taliban or we will
– MSNBC Rachel Maddow: War President Obama
– Ron Paul: ‘Obama is Actually Preparing Us For Perpetual War’
– Afghanistan Surge to Cost At Least $40 Billion, That Is $1.333.333 For One US Soldier Per Year
– Rep. Brad Sherman: Geithner rejects $1 trillion limit on bailout power (Section 1204 is unlimited in dollar amount!)
Liar in Chief (Over 300 soldiers died in 2009 because of this lie!!!):
– Obama: ‘I will promise you this, that if we have not gotten our troops out by the time I am President, it is the first thing I will do. I will get our troops home. We will bring an end to this war. You can take that to the bank.’