Electronic Spying on the Rise, Privacy Groups Warn Ashcroft

May 3, 2001 12:00 am

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Thursday, May 3, 2001

WASHINGTON — Following up on a recent meeting with Attorney General John Ashcroft, a coalition of privacy advocates today sent the Attorney General a series of specific recommendations about how the Bush Administration can better protect the privacy of all Americans.

“The law has not kept pace with technology and as a result, each and every American is an easy target of privacy invasions by government,” said Gregory T. Nojeim, Associate Director of the ACLU’s Washington National Office. “Swift action by the Bush Administration is required to protect us all from unwanted intrusions.”

The FBI’s use of a powerful and invasive electronic monitoring system, aptly named “Carnivore,” topped the list of issues raised with Ashcroft. Of particular concern is the access Carnivore gives the federal government to every piece of electronic correspondence coming through Internet Service Providers (ISPs) required to use it. The groups asked Ashcroft to move technical control of Carnivore from the FBI to the ISPs to ensure that only those individuals targeted by a court order could be subject to electronic government scrutiny.

The letter also argues that government agents must have probable cause when ascertaining the location of a person by tracking the person’s cellular telephone. Similarly, the privacy advocates asked Ashcroft extend the limits on traditional wiretapping and eavesdropping to other new forms of electronic surveillance.

“The computer and the cellular phone are becoming windows through which the government can peek into your private life,” said Nojeim. “Since law enforcement gets no access to your telephone conversation when your neighbor’s phone is tapped, why not apply the same rule to e-mail moving in cyberspace?”

The letter also calls for reasonable limitations on law enforcement access to private medical records.

“As unbelievable as it may sound, the fact is that even with the new medical records privacy regulation, video rental records will continue to enjoy greater privacy protection against governmental intrusion than do highly sensitive medical records,” Nojeim said.

The Ashcroft letter can be found on-line at:

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