FBI Wants More Authority to Spy Live on Gmail, Skype, Dropbox and Cloud
March 2, 2013
Apparently not satisfied with the ability to read everyone’s emails and demand private bank and telephone records without a warrant, the FBI will not be content until it can legally listen in on citizens’ live conversations on email and social networks like Gmail, Skype, Dropbox and Cloud.
by Matt Bewig
April 2, 2013
Calling court approval for government surveillance “obsolete,” FBI general counsel Andrew Weissmann last month stated that getting the power to wiretap all forms of Internet conversation and cloud storage will be a “top priority” this year.
Specifically, law enforcement wants Congress to amend a 1994 surveillance law called the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA). At present, CALEA allows the government to force Internet providers and phone companies to have surveillance equipment on their networks, but the law does not cover email, cloud services, or online chat providers like Skype. Although the FBI can use a “Title III Order” under the Wiretap Act to ask such providers to conduct surveillance, the FBI wants to be able to force them to do it—without a warrant signed by a judge.
Speaking to a luncheon organized by the American Bar Association Standing Committee on Law and National Security on March 20, Weissmann admitted that the FBI wants the power to mandate real-time snooping on all online communications, even including chat associated with online games like Scrabble because, he claims, “Those communications are being used for criminal conversations.” By that logic, law enforcement should have the power to listen in on all telephone conversations and to open and read all mail, since both are undoubtedly used for “criminal conversations” as well.
Further illustrating the Orwellian nature of his project, Weissmann—whose overzealous prosecution of one-time accounting giant Arthur Andersen was unanimously overturned by the Supreme Court in 2005—admitted that “it’s something that there should be a public debate about” even as he refused to reveal the FBI’s specific proposals because “it’s a very hard thing to talk about publicly.”
Because the requirement that law enforcement get a neutral judge to sign a search warrant based on probable cause is at the heart of the Fourth Amendment, if the FBI believes that search warrants are obsolete, it believes the Fourth Amendment is obsolete as well, and ought to have the honesty and integrity to say so publicly.