Thursday, April 25, 2013

To Ease Internet Snooping, Feds Promise To Ignore Privacy Violations

Barack ObamaTo Ease Internet Snooping, Feds Promise To Ignore Privacy Violations:
Federal law, codified in
18 USC §
2511
, prohibits the interception of electronic communications
under most circumstances without explicit legal authorization —
like a warrant. But CNet's Declan McCullagh, working from documents
provided by the Electronic Privacy Information Center,
reports
that the Obama administration is promising
telecommunications companies that it won't enforce the privacy
protections of the law if those companies will just play nice and
vacuum up all that enticing data for the folks in Washington,
D.C.

Writes McCullagh
:
Senior Obama administration officials have secretly authorized
the interception of communications carried on portions of networks
operated by AT&T and other Internet service providers, a
practice that might otherwise be illegal under federal wiretapping
laws.
The secret legal authorization from the Justice Department
originally applied to a cybersecurity pilot project in which the
military monitored defense contractors' Internet links. Since then,
however, the program has been expanded by President Obama to cover
all critical infrastructure sectors including energy, healthcare,
and finance starting June 12. ...
The Justice Department agreed to grant legal immunity
to the participating network providers in the form of what
participants in the confidential discussions refer to as "2511
letters," a reference to the Wiretap Act codified at 18 USC 2511 in
the federal statute books.
The Wiretap Act limits the ability of Internet
providers to eavesdrop on network traffic except when monitoring is
a "necessary incident" to providing the service or it takes place
with a user's "lawful consent." An industry representative told
CNET the 2511 letters provided legal immunity to the providers by
agreeing not to prosecute for criminal violations of the Wiretap
Act. It's not clear how many 2511 letters were issued by the
Justice Department.
The law does allow
short-cuts
by the Attorney General and even by the "principal
prosecuting attorney of any State or subdivision thereof," but only
if a very specifically defined "emergency situation" exists.
Instead of trying to find a little more elasticity in that phrase
than the courts might allow, EPIC suggests that the snooping
program is instead drawing off an Obama administration executive
order and an earlier Bush administration presidential directive.
That's right — unilateral decrees.
Reports
EPIC
:
The documents
concern a collaboration between the Defense Department, the
Department of Homeland Security, and private companies to allow
government monitoring of private Internet networks. Though the
program initially only applied to defense contractors, an Executive
Order
issued by the Obama administration earlier this year
expanded it to include other "critical infrastructure" industries.
The documents obtained by EPIC also cited
NSPD 54 as one source of authority for the program. NSPD 54 is a
presidential directive issued under President Bush that EPIC is
pursuing
in separate FOIA litigation.
The looming, much-criticized
Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act
(CISPA) is
expected to legalize all this snooping and sharing of private
information, but it's not yet law. So the Obama administration is
apparently just ... pretending that it is.