The FBI is trying to force Internet providers to install software that will allow federal agents to track Americans’ Internet usage.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is now trying to pressure Internet providers and other companies to install the program. The port reader would allow agents to intercept and analyze vast amounts of communications at once. A former federal official told McCullagh that the device is part of the “harvesting program.”
Harvesting Your Data
The FBI contends that a provision of the Patriot Act gives it the right to collect metadata such as source and destination IP addresses. That would enable agents to see what websites Americans are visiting. Such a port reader, for example, would allow federal agents to see everybody who visited a gun website.
Other metadata that the port reader could harvest includes e-mail addresses, identities of Facebook users, websites visited and Internet search terms. The port reader would enable the bureau to identify those who were searching for specific information, such as how to convert a gun to automatic.
CNET didn’t say which Internet providers were being pressured but did note that AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon and Comcast declined comment. The port reader only would be used when a carrier’s wiretapping capability is not capable of meeting the FBI’s needs, CNET said.
Law Requires Internet Providers to Cooperate with FBI
Congress added the word “process” to the Patriot Act, allowing the FBI to implant its surveillance technology on carriers’ networks without a warrant — a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, civil liberties groups say.
The FBI’s harvesting of data is made easier by the 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, or CALEA, which requires communications providers to adopt standard practices that make it easy to intercept communications.
Other Federal Agencies
The FBI isn’t the only federal law enforcement agency trying to get Americans’ data.
Reuters revealed that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has its own program called the Special Operations Division, or SOD, which is comprised of the FBI, CIA, NSA, Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Homeland Security. The SOD data is gathered from “NSA intercepts, wiretaps by foreign governments, court-approved domestic wiretaps and a database called DICE to federal agents and local law enforcement officers.” Reuters also revealed how federal agents regularly conceal the SOD data from judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys and others. Agents are taught how to “recreate” the investigation to make it appear the information came not from SOD but from elsewhere. A classic method is to claim that the investigation was launched by a tip.
Some say the practice violates defendants’ right to a fair trial.
“If defendants don’t know how an investigation began, they cannot know to ask to review potential sources of exculpatory evidence — information that could reveal entrapment, mistakes or biased witnesses,” Reuters noted.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, an organization founded in 1990 to defend civil liberties in an electronic age, called the DEA program unconstitutional.
“Taken together, the Fifth and Sixth Amendments guarantee a criminal defendant a meaningful opportunity to present a defense and challenge the government’s case,” Hanni Fakhoury of the Electronic Frontier Foundation wrote on the group’s website. “But this intelligence laundering deprives defendants of these important constitutional protections.”