Feds Look to Expand Electronic Surveillance
WASHINGTON--A confidential document leaked by the Department of Justice Friday calls for laws to expand the government's right to read private e-mail messages and monitor Web surfing, and privacy rights advocates are crying foul.
Drafted by Attorney General John Ashcroft, the 120-page "
The proposal is under fire from privacy advocates and consumer groups.
"I think that the average Web surfer is not going to notice a thing. That's
what is so scary," says Lee Tien, senior staff attorney for the
The draft proposes a number of measures to expand the scope of
Department of Justice spokespersons did not return phone calls.
The proposal is drawing criticism from nonprofit groups focused on consumer and privacy rights.
"We're still reeling from the original USA Patriot Act's impact on civil liberties and now the government wants more," says Cindy Cohn, legal director at the Electronic Freedom Foundation.
"Where is the evidence that the law passed less than two years ago is insufficient? When will Congress draw the line and say, 'This much of our civil liberties you've taken under the guise of terrorism--you may have no more'?"
Critics note that the proposal's treatment of encryption could have serious implications regarding file sharing, an action that increasingly requires coded information. Those found to be sharing music or other entertainment illegally would be subject to an additional five years in prison.
"In this day and age that's going to cut a very broad sweep," says the EFF's Tien. "More and more of our communications over the Internet are de facto encrypted."
Chris Hoofnagle, deputy counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center, says the proposal is part of a concerted effort to subject computer users to "incredible liability."
"It's the idea that using a computer is a kind of aggravated offense, that should create longer sentences than another infraction...it's remarkable," Hoofnagle says.
While the report has privacy advocates up in arms, many are skeptical about the proposal's chance of becoming law. A number of lawmakers from both parties have questioned the Justice Department's use of the Patriot Act provisions--challenges that could stand in the way of a new round of surveillance powers.
The federal investigative body is also fighting a
"I think anyone who reads this bill and remembers what's happened in the past two years...they're not going to be as easily convinced," Tien says.