FBI, internet history, warrant, Senate

Source: Nwo Report

The FBI may soon be able to monitor an individual’s internet history without a warrant in suspected cases of terrorism or espionage, bringing privacy concerns back into the limelight.

Warrantless searches, whether in person or through private cyberspace, are inherently antithetical to personal liberties. It’s true modern terrorists have a strong web presence, and monitoring that activity is key to upholding national security. But under the new proposed rules, it is still unclear what government entity will get to decide what merits a suspicion of terrorism. If implemented, these new powers would allow government snoopers to know what websites your visiting, as well as how long you are visiting them – all without needing probable cause. A successful surveillance state needs protections for the citizenry, and the FBI’s latest moves threaten these safeguards.

The FBI And The Fight For Privacy

The FBI says new reforms will usher in much needed updates to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. Under the proposed fixes, the FBI would be able to obtain “electronic communication transactional records” by issuing a National Security Letter, or NSL.

NLS’s would come with a gag order, meaning the individual or company receiving it would be prohibited from discussing or announcing the matter in public. The Washington Post reports the FBI has already issued over 300,000 of such letters over the past decade, most of which came with gag orders.

Using this surveillance mechanism, the FBI would be able to access a host of information, such as an individual’s internet protocol address and how much time a person spends on a given website. However, there would be some limitations. The warrantless internet history searches would not include the text of an email or Google search terms.

FBI Director James Comey defended the proposed reforms when he was questioned by the Senate Intelligence Committee in February. According to the director, the amendment is needed to fix a typo in the EPCA he says hinders his organization’s ability to work in a “very, very big and practical way”.

The American Civil Liberties Union has blasted the plan, calling it an affront to Constitutional rights.

“This expansion of the NSL statute has been characterized by some government officials as merely fixing a ‘typo’ in the law,” the organization wrote to the Senate on Monday. “In reality, however, it would dramatically expand the ability of the FBI to get sensitive information about users’ online activities without court oversight.”

News of the proposed amendment comes as tensions remain high between the FBI and the technology industry in the US. Silicon Valley giants have been skeptical of the bureau’s objectives after Apple refused to comply with a court order to unlock an iPhone used by San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook.

WASHINGTON POST notes proposal comes with limitations
Such records may include a person’s Internet protocol address and how much time a person spends on a given site. But they don’t include content, such as the text of an e-mail or Google search queries. There’s also a limit to how much visibility the bureau would have into which part of a website a person had visited.

CNET sides with privacy advocates
An FBI agent backed by an NSL could potentially “paint an incredibly intimate picture” of a person’s life on the internet, said the American Civil Liberties Union in a letter sent Monday to lawmakers. Several privacy advocates and tech companies, including Facebook and Google, also signed the letter against the amendment.

EFF says privacy can still win
NSLs are inherently dangerous to civil liberties because their use is rarely subject to judicial review. But NSLs are not magic, and they don’t require recipients to do whatever the FBI says. Above all, the type of information available to the FBI with an NSL is quite limited, reflecting the need to tightly control the extrajudicial nature of this controversial power.