Saturday, August 14, 2010

Obama Demands Access to Internet Records, in Secret, and Without Court Review

The Obama administration is seeking authority from Congress that would compel internet service providers (ISPs) to turn over records of an individual's internet activity for use in secretive FBI probes.

In another instance where Americans are urged to trust their political minders, The Washington Post reported last month that "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."

Under cover of coughing-up information deemed relevant to espionage or terrorism investigations, proposed changes to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) would greatly expand the volume of private records that can be seized through National Security Letters (NSLs).

Constitution-shredding lettres de cachet, NSLs are administrative subpoenas that can be executed by agencies such as the FBI, CIA or Defense Department, solely on the say so of supervisory agents.

The noxious warrants are not subject to court review, nor can a recipient even disclose they have received one. Because of their secretive nature, they are extremely difficult to challenge.

Issued by unaccountable Executive Branch agents hiding behind a façade of top secret classifications and much-ballyhooed "sources and methods," NSLs clearly violate our constitutional rights.

The fourth amendment unambiguously states: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

However, in "new normal" America constitutional guarantees and civil rights are mere technicalities, cynical propaganda exercises jettisoned under the flimsiest of pretexts: the endless "War on Terror" where the corporate state's praetorian guards work the "dark side."

Once served, firms such as telecommunication providers, banks, credit card companies, airlines, health insurers, video rental services, even booksellers and libraries, are compelled to turn over what the secret state deem relevant records on targets of FBI fishing expeditions.

If burdensome NSL restrictions are breeched for any reason, that person can be fined or even jailed if gag orders built into the draconian USA Patriot Act are violated.

However, even the Patriot Act's abysmally lowered threshold for seizing private records specify that NSLs cannot be issued "solely on the basis of activities protected by the first amendment of the Constitution of the United States."

Despite these loose standards, congressional investigators, journalists and civil liberties watchdogs found that the FBI violated the rules of the road, such as they are, thousands of times. Between 2003-2006, the Bureau issued 192,499 NSLs, according to current estimates, the FBI continues to hand out tens of thousands more each year.

According to a May 2009 Justice Department letter sent to the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, "in 2007, the FBI made 16,804 NSL requests" and followed-up the next year by issuing some "24,744 NSL requests ... to 7,225 United States persons."

The Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General (OIG) issued a 2007 report which concluded that the Bureau had systematically abused the process and exceeded their authority. A follow-up report published by the OIG in January found that serious civil liberties breeches continue under President Obama.

This is hardly surprising given the track record of the Obama administration.


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