Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

The string of Obama’s broken promises lengthens

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Ed Brayton:

Here’s yet another broken promise from Obama when it comes to executive power and the 4th amendment. The Washington Post reports:

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.

4th amendment? Probable cause? Warrants? What are you, some kinda commie pinko?

This is all about the use of those National Security Letters that have been so thoroughly abused since they were created by the Patriot Act. In 2006, the feds admitted that the FBI had badly abused their authority with NSLs, using them to collect information that had nothing to do with terrorism and ignoring directives from the FISA court governing their use. But they had fixed those problems, they assured us.

Then in 2008, they had to admit that the same thing had continued to happen long after they assured us that they had fixed the problems. And in addition to the FBI, the CIA and the DOD have been using them too. So by all means, let’s make it even easier for them to get all this information without a warrant.

Stewart A. Baker, a former senior Bush administration Homeland Security official, said the proposed change would broaden the bureau’s authority. "It’ll be faster and easier to get the data," said Baker, who practices national security and surveillance law. "And for some Internet providers, it’ll mean giving a lot more information to the FBI in response to an NSL."

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.

The critics say its effect would be to greatly expand the amount and type of personal data the government can obtain without a court order. "You’re bringing a big category of data — records reflecting who someone is communicating with in the digital world, Web browsing history and potentially location information — outside of judicial review," said Michael Sussmann, a Justice Department lawyer under President Bill Clinton who now represents Internet and other firms.

These are not a little-used tool, by the way. They’re used about 50,000 times a year. The New York Times yesterday called this "an unnecessary and disappointing step backward toward more intrusive surveillance from a president who promised something very different during the 2008 campaign." They’re right.

Obama’s broken promises seem to point to increasing dictatorial powers for the American presidency. Great. Just what we need.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 August 2010 at 10:18 am

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