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April 28, 2008

FBI Wants Power to Monitor Most Internet Traffic

FBI Director Robert Mueller is proposing legislation that would give the FBI the ability to monitor the content of Internet traffic.  The Internet is a fertile place to facilitate crime, and monitoring it would prevent that.  Crime takes many forms.  There's terrorism, whether it be physical plots or cyber attacks on infrastructure.  Then there's obscenity and pornography, piracy of intellectual property, fraud, conspiracy, and political dissent (whoops, made that last crime up).

The problem with that, of course, is that warrantless monitoring by the government may run afoul of existing laws.  Just ask AT&T about that one.  Or the Bush administration.  Of all the things with which it can get Congress to go along, future and retroactive immunity for telecoms in the pending domestic spying cases is not one of them.  So far.

Right now the proposal is no more than a concept gleaming in the eyes of Mueller and Representative Darrell Issa (R-Oceania).  Since no legislation is actually pending, there are no details, merely desire.  With a pending presidential election some six months away, Congress is unlikely to touch this issue before then, if at all.  Then there's that pesky sentimental value people attach to the First and Fourth Amendments.  That seems to be the prevailing sentiment in the CNET commentary on the story.

Should this ultimately go through in any form, we can expect massive sales of encryption software (presumably without a government back door) to protect communications, unless that is made illegal.  Industry sectors that have a duty to protect customer information such as banking, insurance, medical, and others to get mightily uneasy over how something like this may affect them.  For those who remember, in 1972, Richard Nixon had to send thugs to the Watergate Hotel to spy on the Democratic Party.  Fast forward some 36 years later, all he would have to do is get the FBI to hand him printouts.  Somewhere, Nixon's ghost is laughing.

A webcast of the Judiciary Committee hearing is available here.

April 28, 2008 | Permalink

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