FBI Seeks ECPA Amendment To Widen Access To Sensitive Data

A number of trade associations, civil society organizations and companies like Google, Facebook and Yahoo have written to senators to protest against a move by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to expand the ambit of National Security Letters to information like IP addresses, session data and routing and transmission data. The expansion of NSLs is included in the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 as well as in an amendment to the ECPA reform bill. If these bills are passed, the FBI will, such organizations allege, be able to access information about any individual's whereabouts, his religious beliefs, his sexual orientation and his political affiliation through NSLs without having to obtain a sanction from a court.

A large number of organizations, activists and tech companies have long accused the FBI of abusing NSLs to obtain information that were not related to ongoing investigations and were not permitted by NSL statutes. The FBI has also been accused of using NSLs en masse to obtain tens of thousands of records at a time. These allegations were found correct when an audit was conducted by the Office of the Inspector General at the Department of Justice in 2007. In their letter to senators, the group of tech companies, civil society organizations and trade unions have further alleged that the FBI has issued as many as 300,000 National Security Letters and have even issued orders to companies to not to disclose the fact that it had requested them for confidential user data. Back in 2014, a Transparency Report by Google revealed that the government's requests for user data in the United States increased by as much as 250% since the internet search giant started releasing such reports, compared to 150% in the rest of the world. What's more, the data revealed by Google did not include requests made through NSLs, which makes one wonder how many requests were actually sent to companies like Google and Facebook who store confidential online data of millions of users.

The recent plea of tech companies and trade associations have been echoed by Senator Ron Wyden who told Ars Technica that the amendment to the ECPA reform bill was contrary to important protections for Americans' liberty and that if the bill is passed, government surveillance on citizens would increase at the cost of due process and independent oversight of US intelligence agencies. Back in September of last year, Google, along with a number of American tech companies, wrote to a Senate Committee that the ECPA Act needed urgent reform, as the pre-digital era law was contrary to the Fourth Amendment protections afforded to American citizens and because it forced tech companies to hand over sensitive information of citizens to government agencies without sufficient warrants.

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I've always enjoyed writing short articles on a lot of things but tech gadgets, especially Android ones, take the cake. A proud owner of Google Nexus 6P, I love reading up on a lot of topics on my phone, and aside from my writing, I am a passionate Arsenal FC supporter as well.
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