In a disturbing report from CNET last week, we are learning that the FBI is trying to force large telecommunications carriers like Verizon and AT&T to install "eavesdropping technology." In a move that would follow the NSA's current surveillance measures, the FBI wants to be granted broad powers to collect metadata about what American citizens are doing on the Internet.
There are two orders that are in play here. One called 'trap and trace' allows the government to collect metadata of incoming communications, according to the U.S. Code of Laws. The order does not allow for the collection of actual content. The second order, called 'pen register,' allows for the collection of telephone numbers from a particular phone line. If this report from CNET is correct, the authority that the FBI is seeking would allow it to collect Internet metadata. The problem is that these two orders were intended for telephone lines and telephone information. If the government agency wants to use it to gather digital information, this would appear to be a huge misuse of law.
CNET has also learned that the FBI has been working on developing a custom 'port reader' that would allow it to intercept metadata from the Internet in real time. It wants to force Internet service providers to the port reader software against their customers.
It looks like the FBI is attempting to force telecom companies to install their custom tracking software and then use old telephone laws to collect data on America citizens.
The metadata that the FBI could collect under the 'trap and trace' and 'pen register' laws could include "IP addresses, e-mail addresses, identities of Facebook correspondents, Web sites visited, and possibly Internet search terms as well." This is not merely the anonymous metadata that companies like Facebook and Google claim to collect about you. The FBI wants to track your IP address, the web sites you visit, and the internet searches that you do.
Apparently, U.S. telecom companies are fighting the FBI on the installation and use of this technology. It seems they don't want to give up all of this data to government. Unfortunately, there is already a precedent of telecom cooperation on matters like these. The NSA has been gathering data about us from Google, AT&T, and others for years. It's widely believed that the NSA has full access to AT&T fiber optic cables from an AT&T building San Francisco.
This report that the FBI is trying to expand its reach and begin collection real-time Internet metadata from telecom companies is disturbing. It is reinforcing the apparent intention of U.S. government, which is to collect more and more private data about the lives of its private citizens. Unfortunately, this does not come as a surprise. It does, however, reinforce the knowledge that we need to take a stand against this type of action from our own governmental agencies.
We don't have documents or any other data to verify the CNET allegations. In the past, CNET has had to issue retractions about some of its reporting about government surveillance practices. Even with those retractions, CNET has been trying report on issues that are important and help Americans better understand what our own government is attempting to do to us.
This allegation, in conjunction with the recent NSA leaks, should give us pause. Hopefully we will continue to question what is happening here and take what action we can to not let it continue.