Congress Moves to Rein in Illegal Wiretaps

The JUSTICE Act, short for the Judicious Use of Surveillance Tools in Counterterrorism Efforts Act, was brought to my attention today. The JUSTICE Act seeks to put constraints on the Bush-era USA Patriot Act and FISA Act Amendment which drove national security efforts here at home post-9/11.

In the past, I have been a very vocal critic of the previous administration and their liberal assumption of power not explicitly granted to them by the Constitution. Namely, the use of these powers was, in my book, impeachable offenses. That Administration has come and gone, but the PATRIOT Act and FISA still haunt us to this day.

We in the technology community should be alarmed.

The JUSTICE Act, however, brings some sanity to this process. I’ve read a significant portion of the bill (embedded below) and it goes a long way in improving the current situation that allows the government, based on their say so, to direct communications companies (cable, satellite, phone, wireless carriers, ISPs, etc) to hand over data on American citizens without warrant, and in a far-reaching and unfetter fashion. By placing investigations behind a veil of opaquenes that is unable to be questioned even by other courts, the executive branch of government, under the Bush Administration and in the name of National Security, assumed an exclusive lock oninvestigatory powers without constraint.

3531416607_3e8e066127This bill does what should have been done with the previous bills – considerations for Due Process, First Amendment rights and checks and balances.

Notably, the JUSTICE Act attempts to place the limitation and focus of National Security Letters (directives issued from the Director of the FBI) back on foreign powers and places significant protectionary road blocks between the government and the citizen.

While I do not trust the government to actually be able to do the right thing, the fact that this bill is introduced tells me that there is a recognition that when checks and balances are in effect, as they were intended to be, it’s much harder to do the wrong thing. It’s called accountability and the more we have, the better we’ll be.

EFF is hosting a call to action, allowing folks to automatically send a note to their Senators.

Democracy Abhors Undue Secrecy

This article was originally published on September 30, 2004 and is being republished as part of the Technosailor 3-year Blogiversary series. Enjoy!

Finally, my Patriot Act provision whipping boy has been ruled illegitimate and unconstitutional. According to U.S. District Court Judge Victor Marrerro, the Patriot Act provision allowing federal officials to gain access to private internet and telephone communication without warrant is unconstitutional and constitues illegal search and seizure.

In other words, if I’m a regular user who may be under (false) suspicion of terrorism ties, and I use Earthlink as my ISP, any and all email communication, data transfer, etc (illegal or not) would be subject to the Patriot Act rules which allow federal officials to obtain this information without warrant and furthermore, prevents Earthlink from letting me know that my information has been acquired. The Fourth Amendment protects against this and demands law enforcement to provide reasonable cause to retain a warrant.

I have held for a long time, almost since day one of the Patriot Act inception, that it is a document implemented in a sensitive and jumpy moment that allows too broad of powers to authorities that cannot possibly use the power effectively and without infringing on personal liberties. It is a legalized robbery of personal liberties.

In the south, South Carolina was the first state in the union to secede. In the south, they still call the civil war the War of Northern Aggression. Why? Not slavery, my friends. Because Lincoln sent American military troops into operatinos against other American states and that was seen as an abuse of power and an infringement on the very American principles that caused South Carolina to ratify the Constitution in the first place.

How is this abominable Act of Congress any better. In the name of protection from terrorism, the privacy we enjoy in America slips away. Out of fear, control is tightened on the good American people.

This was a major issue that caused me to be undecided on this election for so long. I may endorse Bush, but I do not endorse government infringement on my life, or on your life.