Administration Pushes For Expanded Wiretapping Capabilities

October 19, 2010 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – According to a report in The New York Times today, the Obama administration will be submitting proposals to Congress next year seeking to expand its wiretapping capacity by overhauling the law requiring telecommunications companies to ensure their networks can be wiretapped.

The administration claims that Congress must rework the Communications Assistance to Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) – which compels telecommunications and broadband companies to ensure their services are wiretap-ready – in order to keep up with technological changes in the companies’ services. The administration is also asking that the government’s power to enforce compliance by companies with the law be strengthened. However, the government’s authority under CALEA to lawfully collect information from telecommunications and broadband companies is currently sufficient, as is its ability to enforce penalties for noncompliance.

In 2007 and 2008, in an analogous situation, the Bush administration pushed to “modernize” the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) by claiming technological changes had made it more difficult for law enforcement and intelligence agencies to monitor foreign communications. The former administration successfully used the opportunity, under the guise of a technical fix, to radically expand the government’s power to monitor Americans’ international communications through passage of the FISA Amendments Act (FAA) in July 2008. The American Civil Liberties Union is challenging the constitutionality of the FAA in federal court. The case, Amnesty v. Blair, is currently on appeal before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit.

The ACLU warned that like those relating to FISA, current proposals threaten Americans’ privacy rights and could easily lead to government abuse.

The following can be attributed to Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office:

“We are very concerned that this latest push for expanded surveillance capability could become yet another far-reaching alteration of our country’s surveillance laws. We’ve seen this before when, in the name of ‘modernization,’ the last administration used a request for simple, technical fixes to vastly broaden the government’s surveillance abilities. It would be irresponsible to allow that kind of power grab to occur again. Congress must ensure that it does not merely rubberstamp the administration’s proposals and grant the government additional ability to conduct surveillance on innocent Americans.”

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