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Wiretapping Program – Soon to be Legalized by Intelligence Court

Today, New York Times reported that the Wiretapping Program will be legalized by a federal intelligence court. It will authorize both the president and Congress to monitor overseas phone calls and e-mail messages without a court order, although this may include Americans’ personal communications. The report states that “in validating the government’s wide authority to collect foreign intelligence, it may offer legal credence to the Bush administration’s repeated assertions that the president has constitutional authority to act without specific court approval in ordering national security eavesdropping.”

RESTORE act and NSA permanent eavesdropping stations

“NSA’s Lucky Break: How the U.S. Became Switchboard to the World.” by Ryan Singel

Singel’s article provides an intriguing history lesson on internet architecture and the US role as an international communications hub. Too bad it’s not just a history lesson, but an explanation of current legislation making its way through Congress to give the NSA permanent eavesdropping capabilities on both foreign and domestic communication traffic.

The RESTORE Act (.pdf) (RESTORE = “Responsible Electronic Surveillance That is Overseen, Reviewed, and Effective”) would extend the NSA’s power indefinitely but would “include some safeguards against abuse” (IMHO, an audit trail described in Sec 7 and 8 of the bill does little to safeguard against abuse!). Ironically, President Bush has vowed to veto RESTORE because it doesn’t extend retroactive legal immunity to telephone companies who cooperated in the NSA’s domestic surveillance before it was legalized. Of course the telecoms are lobbying hard for this immunity clause — AT&T is facing a class-action lawsuit for allegedly wiretapping the internet at the behest of the NSA. Need to protect the industrial hand that feeds you eh?

A lucky coincidence of economics is responsible for routing much of the world’s internet and telephone traffic through switching points in the United States, where, under legislation introduced this week, the U.S. National Security Agency will be free to continue tapping it.

Leading House Democrats introduced the so-called RESTORE Act Tuesday that allows the nation’s spies to maintain permanent eavesdropping stations inside United States switching centers. Telecom and internet experts interviewed by Wired News say the bill will give the NSA legal access to a torrent of foreign phone calls and internet traffic that travels through American soil on its way someplace else.

But contrary to recent assertions by Bush administration officials, the amount of international traffic entering the United States is dropping, not increasing, experts say.

You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours

Many of you will remember a little over a year ago when it was disclosed that certain phone companies — specifically ATT, Verizon, and BellSouth — were providing assistance to the National Security Agency in their illegal domestic spying. In a bizarre example of scratching each others’ backs, today the Department of Justice came out against Net neutrality. That’s right, since the telcos helped the federal government with their illegal wiretapping, the federal government felt it needed to make a statement again net neutrality. We’ve been tracking the net neutrality issue for a while, and find this blatent example of political favors very unseemly.

The Justice Department on Thursday said Internet service providers should be allowed to charge a fee for priority Web traffic. The agency told the Federal Communications Commission, which is reviewing high-speed Internet practices, that it is opposed to "Net neutrality," the principle that all Internet sites should be equally accessible to any Web user. Several phone and cable companies, such as AT&T Inc., Verizon Communications Inc. and Comcast Corp., have previously said they want the option to charge some users more money for loading certain content or Web sites faster than others. The Justice Department said imposing a Net neutrality regulation could hamper development of the Internet and prevent service providers from upgrading or expanding their networks. It could also shift the "entire burden of implementing costly network expansions and improvements onto consumers," the agency said in its filing.


Increased NSA wiretap powers AND censure resolutions? BOOM!

Can you hear the sound of my head exploding over the intertubes? Anyone got a twist-tie?!

First there was the news over the weekend that Congress passed the Protect America Act of 2007 which changes the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and provides new powers to the National Security Agency to monitor communications that enter the United States and involve foreigners who are the subjects of a national security investigation (read the FAQ; listen to analysis from Glenn Greenwald, Marjorie Cohn, and Amy Goodman).

But now I just read that Democrats in the House and Senate have introduced resolutions calling for the censure (non-binding of course) of President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales for misleading the country in pursuing war with Iraq and for undermining the rule of law.

How can that be that the same Congress that would give National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales joint authority to approve the monitoring of calls and e-mails, rather than the 11-member Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (basically making legal the warrentless domestic spy program) could be the same legislative body that calls for censure of top administration officials including the Attorney General who will have the increased authority to undermine the rule of law?!

[Thanks PS Mueller!]