Monday, April 26, 2004

Slowly I turned, step by step....

Again, what can't be done openly is being done by stealth. This example is provided by Declan McCullagh, Washington correspondent for CNET, in an April 19 column on ZDNet.

In 1994, Congress passed the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) because of concerns that then-emerging technologies such as cellular phones and three-way calling weren't covered by legislation allowing for wiretapping of conversations.

At the time, it was made abundantly clear that the law applied to telephones and telephones only.
"So what we are looking for is strictly telephone - what is said over a telephone?" Sen. Larry Pressler, R-S.D., asked.

[Then-FBI Director Louis] Freeh replied: "That is the way I understand it. Yes, sir."

A House of Representatives committee report prepared in October 1994 is emphatic, saying CALEA's requirements "do not apply to information services such as electronic-mail services; or online services such as CompuServe, Prodigy, America Online or Mead Data (Central); or to Internet service providers."
In fact Freeh had earlier attempted to include internet services in the new law, but Congress rejected it.

Now the FBI is back, trying to get the feds to require providers of broadband, Internet telephony, and instant-messaging services to build in backdoors to make it easy for government eavesdroppers to listen in. Are they asking Congress for legislative authority? Of course not - that could spark public debate, especially since there are a lot of politically-adept bitheads who really value their internet privacy.

So despite the legislative history, despite the clear Congressional intent, the FBI and the DEA are claiming that CALEA gives the FCC the authority to in effect require a rewrite of the internet for the benefit of the federal snoops - and they're pressing the agency to move on their dema - er, "request" - for vastly broadened powers of surveillance with little public input, or, more exactly, before the public catches on.

Okay, so Orwell was British. But he had an American spirit.

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