Beyond The Patriot Act, New Rules

Few Americans Expressed Concerns About Eroding Civil Liberties

By Bob Weaver/Wire Services 2005

Could it be citizens of the US might need some protection from the government, as much as terrorism.

The scratching away of personal rights have brought little outcry from the American people, whose strong beliefs as patriots ignore some of the conditions of the "Patriot Act," initiated to protect citizens from terrorism.

While all Americans would agree that measures must be taken to stop terrorism, the "Patriot Act" seems like Orwells "Newspeak" from his novel "1984," what he saw happening in the use of English in his own time, deceit for political purposes, not alone the eroding of personal freedom.

Orwell said we will live in a world where fear "protects" freedom - war is peace, freedom is slavery and ignorance is strength.

Now, comes the Communications Assistance Act for Law Enforcement, only to be used against the bad guys.

The media has barely reported that clock is ticking for broadband and Net-phone providers to make it easier for law enforcement to conduct surveillance on users of their networks.

According to a final order issued by the Federal Communications Commission in late September, all broadband Internet service providers and many Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, companies have 18 months, until spring 2007, to ensure their systems have back doors that allow police to eavesdrop on their customers' communications for investigative purposes.

The 59-page order followed years of pressure from the FBI, the Justice Department and the Drug Enforcement Administration.

It broadens the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), an 11-year-old wiretapping law that currently applies only to "telecommunications carriers."

Verizon executive Douglas Sullivan said that his company supports the government's "legal conclusions" about expanding the reach of CALEA and has been working with vendors over the past few years to build compliant equipment.

The FCC has justified the expansion on the basis of terrorism and Homeland Security. Bush administration officials have warned, for example, of the perils of VoIP services in rogue hands.

It remains unclear exactly what classes of providers within those broad categories must do to reach compliance.

The FCC said in its original order that it reached "no conclusions" about whether universities, research institutions, and small or rural broadband providers should be subject the requirements.

The comment period had expired.

C&W Enterprises, a small broadband provider in rural Western Texas, wrote, "it is difficult to assess what the costs would be for our company or what type of exemption we would advocate without knowing what we will be required to do under the CALEA rules."

An FCC representative downplayed the order, acknowledging that the existing order does not set specific requirements. Instead, it is designed to "get the industry thinking" about making the changes "so they can begin to incorporate CALEA compliance," he said.

The cable broadband industry, which counted about 1.2 million VoIP customers and 23.5 million Internet subscribers as of the second quarter of this year, is "working with the FBI on a CALEA solution for cable broadband service," said Brian Dietz, spokesman for the National Cable and Television Association.

Verizon executive Sullivan said that several unanswered questions remained, including how to recover costs associated with the changes and how enforcement will operate. "We understand that the commission intends to address these issues in a follow-up order we hope will be issued very soon."

The American Council on Education, which has said universities and research institutions deserve to be exempted from the regulations because the changes required are too expensive and would prompt inevitable tuition hikes.

A coalition of groups, including the Center for Democracy and Technology and the VoIP company, issued their own appeal.

They say that Congress never intended for CALEA to apply to the Internet and that the FCC has stepped outside its bounds.

The powers even exceed FBI's J. Edgar Hoover, who created what is now said to be hundreds of thousands, if not millions of files, on "suspicious" Americans. Following the release of the files, most where ordinary citizens about whom someone said was suspicious, all shades of what most Americans have deplored in totalitarian nations.

Under the sweeping legislation of the Patriot Act, the government can...

(1) SEARCH YOUR HOME AND NOT EVEN TELL YOU. The USA Patriot Act expands law enforcement's ability to conduct secret "sneak and peek" searches of your home. Investigators can enter your home or office, take pictures and seize items without informing you that a warrant was issued, for an indefinite period of time. (SECTION 213)

(2) COLLECT INFORMATION ABOUT WHAT BOOKS YOU READ, WHAT YOU STUDY, YOUR PURCHASES AND YOUR MEDICAL HISTORY. The USA Patriot Act gives law enforcement broad access to any types of records - medical, financial, gun, library, educational, sales, etc. - without probable cause of a crime. It also prohibits the holders of this information, like librarians, from disclosing that they have produced such records, under threat of imprisonment. The court orders are issued by a secret intelligence court in Washington and judges have little power to deny applications. (SECTION 215)

(3) SEIZE A WIDE VARIETY OF BUSINESS AND FINANCIAL RECORDS, and in certain instances access the membership lists of organizations that provide even very limited Internet services (message boards on your church website for instance) using "national security letters," or NSLs, which are issued at the sole discretion of the Justice Department. The Patriot Act expanded access to these NSLs, which also impose a blanket gag order on recipients and are not subject to judicial review. (SECTION 505)

(4) READ PARTS OF YOUR E-MAILS AND MONITOR WHAT YOU LOOK AT ON-LINE. The Patriot Act lets the government get records that could show the subject lines of your e-mails and details about your Web surfing habits (like your recent research on Google), all without probable cause. (SECTION 216)

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