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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.