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April 24th, 2008

FBI Wants To Monitor The Internet For “Illegal” Activity

The FBI on Wednesday called for new legislation that would allow federal police to monitor the Internet for “illegal activity.”

The suggestion from FBI Director Robert Mueller, which came during a House of Representatives Judiciary Committee hearing, appears to go beyond a current plan to monitor traffic on federal-government networks. Mueller seemed to suggest that the bureau should have a broad “omnibus” authority to conduct monitoring and surveillance of private-sector networks as well. The surveillance should include all Internet traffic “whether it be .mil, .gov, .com-whichever network you’re talking about.”

If any omnibus Internet-monitoring proposal became law, it could implicate the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee of freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. In general, courts have ruled that police need search warrants to obtain the content of communication, and the federal Wiretap Act created “super warrant” wiretap orders that require additional steps and judicial oversight.

In addition, it’s unclear whether “illegal activity” would be limited to responding to denial-of-service attacks and botnets, or would also include detecting other illegal activities, such as online gambling, the distribution of “obscene” images of adults engaged in sexual acts, or selling drugs without a license.

Some politicians have already raised concerns that even Einstein, which is described as dealing only with government networks and not private ones, could infringe upon the privacy rights of American citizens. It’s already in place at 15 federal agencies, but Homeland Security has said it’s still preparing the necessary privacy impact assessments for a proposed $293 million government-wide Einstein expansion.

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