Unleashing the Online Police

Revolutionary Worker #1154, June 9, 2002, posted at http://rwor.org

One focus of the new Ashcroft guidelines is FBI spying on the Internet. Agents are now allowed to do "pure surfing" -- which means gather online information on people and movements even where there is no crime involved.

This is portrayed as simple common sense. Over and over, Ashcroft (and his many apologists) draw a picture of a "hampered" FBI.

When he announced his "reforms" on May 30, Ashcroft said: "Under the current guidelines, FBI investigators cannot surf the web the way you or I can. Nor can they simply walk into a public event or a public place to observe ongoing activities. They have no clear authority to use commercial data services that any business in America can use. These restrictions are a competitive advantage for terrorists who skillfully utilize sophisticated techniques and modern computer systems to compile information for targeting and attacking innocent Americans."

This is nonsense. The FBI has been anything but handcuffed. Intelligence agencies, from the FBI to the CIA and NSA, have been neck-deep in the Internet since the U.S. military created it over 30 years ago--and their spy powers and activities have been growing at a chilling rate.

Consider this: For three years, the FBI has run (and expanded) a high-tech domestic program called "Carnivore" that spies on email.

At the same time, the U.S. intelligence agencies run an international Internet spy operation called "Echelon"--which works with the intelligence agencies of allied governments to conduct operations that would be "illegal" if based on U.S. soil. Echelon intercepts and searches all e-mail traffic in the world, and all phone traffic that bounces off satellites--using a network of listening posts, antenna fields, and radar stations. Signals are sent through multi-language computers that search for speech patterns and key words.

Consider this: Over the last two years, the FBI has pressured Internet Service Providers (ISPs--the companies like Earthlink and AOL that provide Internet connection) into highly sinister collaboration. It is increasingly routine for the FBI to provide ISPs with a list of users to spy on, and for ISPs to provide their emails to the political police.

Press reports document that such FBI requests have skyrocketed since the passage of the PATRIOT law seven months ago. Eavesdropping is approved by courts in huge numbers. One survey of ISPs estimated that the number of FBI requests for email spying had doubled every month since September 11. For some ISPs this spying has become so routine and massive that they have established a special call-in number for FBI agents seeking information on email users. Though the PATRIOT law was passed in the name of "stopping terrorism," its Internet provisions are not limited to "anti-terrorist operations" and apply to any investigation the police want to conduct.

Meanwhile, it was widely documented that during the last presidential election conventions and the anti-globalization demonstrations, political police were crawling all over the web and Internet chatrooms, spying on the plans and conversations of activists.

Question: Who can believe the ridiculous picture of frustrated FBI agents, handcuffed by political correctness, unable to even go to yahoo or google.com for "pure surfing"??!!

Consider this: The government has released a March 2000 memo dealing with an FBI agent using Carnivore while working with the Denver "bin Laden unit."

The memo documents what was widely suspected: that it is impossible to target just one person's email, and Carnivore constantly provides police with the emails of "non-covered" people. Reading the email of people not "covered" by their warrants is illegal. The government also revealed that there has been a whole procedure for dealing with this, where the "uncovered" email is read by court officials first, then by the FBI, to cover all legal bases.

Question: Can people allow the FBI to use "the war on terrorism" to seize the right to paw through anyone and everyone's private correspondence without any restrictions?

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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