S/SW blog philosophy -

I credit favorite writers and public opinion makers.

A lifelong Democrat, my comments on Congress, the judiciary and the presidency are regular features.

My observations and commentary are on people and events in politics that affect the USA or the rest of the world, and stand for the interests of peace, security and justice.

Monday, September 10, 2007

"Like an ubiquitous spook" - Part III -

The FBI Wiretapping Case -
The current administration, through its intelligence efforts, continues to be involved in very widespread (ubiquitous) collection and analysis of information about potential threats on the domestic front. Spooks, spies - eyes & ears in the skies - 11/28/06 - was my first "ubiquitous" post on civil liberties and security.
At this moment I am listening to a Senate Committee hearing on C-Span on "Terrorist Threats Six Years Later." The Big Four, Michael Chertoff (Homeland Security), Robert Mueller (FBI), Mike McConnell (DNI), and Admiral J.S. Redd (NCTC) are testifying. Civil liberties and privacy are at the bottom of everyone's agenda, Sentors and witnesses have all been speaking only tangentially about those principles.
FBI became ubiquitous in electronic surveillance demands from communications companies - Not long after 9/11/2001 surveillance on both foreigners and Americans became more widespread. The Patriot Act completely reorganized the business of gathering intelligence, giving vast authority to the FBI to spy on all Americans. The story of this effort comes from the New York Times : "FBI cast a wide net." To quote,
F.B.I. Data Mining Reached Beyond Target Suspects, By ERIC LICHTBLAU
September 9, 2007

WASHINGTON, Sept. 8 — The F.B.I. cast a much wider net in its terrorism investigations than it has previously acknowledged by relying on telecommunications companies to analyze phone-call and e-mail patterns of the associates of Americans who had come under suspicion, according to newly obtained bureau records.

The documents indicate that the Federal Bureau of Investigation used secret demands for records to obtain data not only on individuals it saw as targets but also details on their “community of interest” — the network of people that the target in turn was in contact with. The bureau recently stopped the practice in part because of broader questions raised about its aggressive use of the records demands, which are known as national security letters, officials said Friday after being asked about it.

The community of interest data sought by the F.B.I. is central to a data-mining technique intelligence officials call link analysis. Since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, American counterterrorism officials have turned more frequently to the technique, using communications patterns and other data to identify suspects who may not have any other known links to extremists.

On the FBI's surveillance system, DCSNet - from (8/29/07) comes this on what we are dealing with, including the breach of security concerns for the system itself: "Point, Click ... Eavesdrop: How the FBI Wiretap Net Operates." To quote,
The FBI has quietly built a sophisticated, point-and-click surveillance system that performs instant wiretaps on almost any communications device, according to nearly a thousand pages of restricted documents newly released under the Freedom of Information Act.

The surveillance system, called DCSNet, for Digital Collection System Network, connects FBI wiretapping rooms to switches controlled by traditional land-line operators, internet-telephony providers and cellular companies. It is far more intricately woven into the nation's telecom infrastructure than observers suspected.

It's a "comprehensive wiretap system that intercepts wire-line phones, cellular phones, SMS and push-to-talk systems," says Steven Bellovin, a Columbia University computer science professor and longtime surveillance expert.
Court rules FBI acting illegally - The ACLU brought suit "for us all." The headline was heartening: "Judge invalidates Patriot Act provisions," from the Washington Post (9/7/07). To quote from the story,
A federal judge struck down controversial portions of the USA Patriot Act in a ruling that declared them unconstitutional yesterday, ordering the FBI to stop its wide use of a warrantless tactic for obtaining e-mail and telephone data from private companies for counterterrorism investigations.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero in New York said the FBI's use of secret "national security letters" to demand such data violates the First Amendment and constitutional provisions on the separation of powers, because the FBI can impose indefinite gag orders on the companies and the courts have little opportunity to review the letters.

. . . But Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed the lawsuit in the case, said the ruling "is yet another setback in the Bush administration's strategy in the war on terror and demonstrates the far-reaching efforts of this administration to use powers that are clearly unconstitutional."
The bottom line is, what we have are the courts almost as a last resort. Congress remains supine on our behalf allowing our constitution protections to be ignored. The safety net seems very thin at this moment.

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