Congress Considers Stronger Cybersurveillance
Lawmakers are reportedly reviewing drafts of the Antiterrorism Act of 2001, a legislative package containing measures for increased electronic surveillance that have triggered resistance from privacy groups and others.
The Department of Justice assembled the proposal in the wake of the
"I'm optimistic that we will be able to act quickly to provide law enforcement with the additional tools that are necessary to fight terrorism," says Attorney General John Ashcroft, speaking while his department was still crafting the legislation.
Specifics of the package include changes in areas such as seizure of voice mail messages and interception of "computer trespasser" communications, along with changes to wiretap laws.
In his briefings on the legislation, Ashcroft chose to highlight a measure that would let law enforcement obtain "wiretap authority for an individual" instead of a phone number.
"You understand that assigning the authority only to the hardware means that when a person changes hardware, we lose our capacity to surveil," Ashcroft says.
But also included in the proposed package is a change to existing laws related to a service provider's disclosure of customers' electronic communications to law enforcement.
Under the antiterrorism package, the provider would make such disclosures "if the provider reasonably believes that an emergency involving immediate danger of death or serious physical injury to any person requires disclosure of the information without delay," reads the draft legislation.
The legislation is
EPIC and others have said that the use of FBI's Carnivore system is central to the antiterrorism package. Carnivore is a filtering system placed at an ISP to monitor traffic.
In response to the legislation, several civil liberties groups banded
together with some religious and consumer entities to
"We need to consider proposals calmly and deliberately with a determination not to erode the liberties and freedoms that are at the core of the American way of life," reads a statement offered on behalf of 150 groups, 300 law professors, and 40 computer scientists.
Those supporters gathered Thursday in Washington, D.C., to issue a ten-point declaration titled "In Defense of Freedom."
Participating groups include the American Civil Liberties Union, National Lawyers Guild, Net Action, and EPIC.
While privacy groups reacted strongly, at least some corporations voice initial support for stepped-up surveillance measures.
"I think there may be some backlash and concerns from citizens and companies. But the need for privacy right now should not be confused with interference with legitimate law enforcement," says Eytan Urbas, vice president of marketing for Mailshell.
Urbas says the "lines of privacy change" and that initial tolerance for heightened surveillance is akin to "people's increased willingness to subject themselves to searches in airports now."
But several groups, including the ACLU, have immediately taken a harder line. They say the Justice Department and FBI already have broad powers in that area, and that judges seldom refuse wiretap requests.