ACLU Submits Testimony To House Hearing On Internet Wiretapping

February 17, 2011 12:00 am

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Proposed Changes To Wiretapping Law Would Harm Civil Liberties, Group Says
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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union submitted testimony for a hearing today of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security that will examine a troubling proposal by the Obama administration to expand its ability to conduct invasive surveillance online.

The administration has argued that it is simply hoping to update the Communications Assistance to Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), which mandated that telephone companies rework their networks to be wiretap-ready. What is being proposed, however, is not just emulating CALEA. Telephones operate through central networks, making wiretapping relatively easy. Conversely, Internet communications are split up and travel in small pieces over thousands of computers, so the Internet would have to be “rewired” in order for the administration’s proposal to be implemented, making the entire system vulnerable.

“Though the administration claims this is just a technical fix, its request will actually change the structure of the Internet, providing the government with a master key to our online communications,” said Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “The proposed changes will not only make it easier and cheaper for the government to invade our privacy, but also make the Internet more vulnerable to penetration from other sources.”

According to press reports, the administration is proposing to mandate that all online communications services use technologies that would make it easier for the government to collect private communications and decode encrypted messages that Americans send over texting platforms, BlackBerries, social networking sites and other “peer to peer” communications software.

Though the proposed changes to CALEA are being portrayed as an attempt to increase cybersecurity, it will actually leave much of Americans’ private data more vulnerable through new access points. The ACLU pointed out in its testimony that this is not a hypothetical concern. A similar technological change allowed unknown parties to spy on high government officials in Greece, including the prime minister.

“Government should be increasing our security, not weakening it,” said Chris Calabrese, ACLU Legislative Counsel. “We cannot simply surrender all of our privacy and other fundamental values in the name of national security. We need to draw limits, and what has been described by the administration so far goes way over the line. Congress should challenge the administration to prove these changes are necessary and will not infringe on Americans’ privacy.”

The ACLU’s statement for the record can be found here:

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