White House Wants To Make It Easier For The FBI To See Your Internet Contacts

So an anonymous "senior administration official" says that "most" internet and email providers already turn over this information. (Gee, I wonder

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So an anonymous "senior administration official" says that "most" internet and email providers already turn over this information. (Gee, I wonder why he didn't want to go on the record. And I wonder why the Post allowed it.)

See, here's the problem with these relentless expansions of executive power: I don't actually believe that the Obama administration is interested in putting me under surveillance for criticizing their policies. But they're sure as hell making it a lot easier for a paranoid Republican administration to do it -- not to mention loose cannon FBI agents who simply want to ignore the rules. In a democracy, the way it's supposed to work is, we have laws that will protect us even when the bad guys are in charge:

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.

[...] 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.

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