Spying on Its Citizens: As American as Apple Pie

During the Bush-era, in the sweeping intrusive context of the “Patriot Act”, US citizens found out that their international communications were spied on with the generous complicity of their “trusted” telephone companies such as AT & T and Verizon. These actions were, until 2008, clearly outside the norms of the defined wiretap authorizations given by the FISA Court. The Obama administration has in the work something just as sweeping and intrusive for the little we have left as far as right to privacy and civil liberties.

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Yesterday, Charlie Savage from the New-York Times, reported that the FBI and the NSA are seeking sweeping new regulations for 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 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 problems, it could set an example that is copied globally,” wrote Charlie Savage in his article.

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But the real problem here is this: Once a society or a state become permanently obsessed with so called “security”, civil liberties and right to privacy are squashed. Because of authoritarian measure such as the “Patriot Act”, the Executive branch of government’s ability to spy on US citizens is already too broad, and the new law proposed by the Obama administration would only expend it. “Big Brother” government has been with us for some time now, and this would only make matter worse, a lot worse.

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The Obama administration is arguing 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. However, the US Congress has already granted the executive branch virtually unchecked power to conduct dragnet collections of Americans’ international e-mails and telephone calls without a warrant or suspicion of any kind under the FISA Amendment Act of 2008 (FAA). Today’s proposal, reported by Charlie Savage, would provide, if voted into law by Congress, the legal apparatus for the government to implement domestically its over-broad surveillance authority.

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“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 concerns over cyber-security 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 communications even more vulnerable. Congress must reject the Obama administration proposal to make the Internet wiretap ready,” said  ACLU’s Christopher Calabrese.

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