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The Most Important Wiretapping Act You Never Heard Of And How The FBI Wants To Change It

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Its not conjecture. Its not a ‘conspiracy theory.’ But even with recent revelations from the likes of Edward Snowden and Julian Assange, the American public hasn’t quite yet grasped the reality of the grand Stasi surveillance state we find ourselves in.

If you are one such American, please consider the The Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), passed in 1994 during the Clinton administration.

The Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) is a United States wiretapping law mandating telecommunications carriers and manufacturers of telecommunications equipment modify and design their equipment, facilities, and services to ensure that they have built-in surveillance capabilities, allowing federal agencies to monitor all telephone, broadband internet, and VoIP traffic.

Its right there in the act!

The Federal Bureau of Investigation was central to CALEA’s creation. They claimed to be worried that increasing use of digital telephone exchange switches would make tapping phones at the phone company’s central office harder and slower to execute, or in some cases impossible.

Since the original requirement to add CALEA-compliant interfaces required phone companies to modify or replace hardware and software in their systems, U.S. Congress included funding for a limited time period to cover such network upgrades.

In the years since CALEA was passed it has been greatly expanded to include all VoIP and broadband internet traffic. From 2004 to 2007 there was a 62 percent growth in the number of wiretaps performed under CALEA — and more than 3,000 percent growth in interception of internet data such as email.

By 2007, the FBI had spent $39 million on its DCSNet system, which collects, stores, indexes, and analyzes all telecommunications data.

Now, the FBI, not being one to rest on their laurels – hopes to expand CALEA again.

The online industry has been working overtime to secure sites and create end-to-end encryption. Google and Apple announced new encryption mechanisms on their devices while enabling only users to unlock their phones. This safeguard for your devices has the FBI worried they won’t get the access they want.

The FBI wants Congress to change CALEA and force Google and Apple to give the FBI a ‘master key’ that could in essence, unlock and access every telecommunications device in the United States.

Late last month, officials with the FBI and the Obama Justice Department met with House staffers for a classified briefing to discuss the ‘dangers of encryption.’

FBI Director James Comey has openly called for having a such a ‘master key’ in a scathing plea to the American people to give up their privacy because the FBI “has real threats to fight.”

At an October 16 speech at the Brookings Institutie in Washington, D.C., Comey said “encryption threatens to lead all of us to a very dark place.”

“Encryption is nothing new. But the challenge to law enforcement and national security officials is markedly worse, with recent default encryption settings and encrypted devices and networks—all designed to increase security and privacy,” Comey said.

“With Apple’s new operating system, the information stored on many iPhones and other Apple devices will be encrypted by default. Shortly after Apple’s announcement, Google announced plans to follow suit with its Android operating system,”Comey added. “This means the companies themselves won’t be able to unlock phones, laptops, and tablets to reveal photos, documents, e-mail, and recordings stored within… The pendulum on privacy issues has swung too far against the government.”

But why stop at smartphones? The FBI could just as well demand that every device manufacturer build in backdoor access for the government. Imagine GM being forced to give backdoor access to vehicle On-Star so the FBI can follow your movements.

And the FBI doesn’t exactly have the best surveillance record to begin with. In a post-Snowden world, its the NSA that draws most of the ire of privacy advocates but the FBI has a history rich with abuses.

Cointelpro was a series of covert, and at times illegal, projects conducted by the FBI aimed at surveying, infiltrating, discrediting, and disrupting domestic political organizations between 1956 and 1971. The counter intelligence measures targeted the personal communications of leading Americans who criticized the Vietnam War, including Senators, civil rights leaders, journalists, and athletes.

The FBI’s stated motivation was “protecting national security, preventing violence, and maintaining the existing social and political order.”

Since 9/11, the FBI has been granted by Congress and assumed for itself the power to investigate and collect data about millions of people.

A report released in 2013 by the American Civil Liberties Union provides a comprehensive accounting of the bureau’s expanded post-9/11 investigative and intelligence collection authorities, their impact on civil liberties in the United States, and the FBI’s evasion of oversight that enables abuses to continue.

“Rather than aiding its terrorism prevention efforts, the FBI’s expanded investigative and intelligence powers have overwhelmed agents with a flood of irrelevant information and false alarms,” said Michael German, senior policy counsel at the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office. “Instead of funding these ineffective and suspicionless intelligence collection programs, Congress should examine whether American communities could be made safer overall by spending that money to help state and local police solve violent crime.”

Entitled, “Unleashed and Unaccountable: The FBI’s Unchecked Abuse of Authority,” the first half of the report documents how Congress, the attorney general, and the White House provided the FBI with new authorities in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 in an effort to prevent another terrorist attack inside the United States. With the passage of the USA PATRIOT Act in 2001 and the FISA Amendments Act in 2008, Congress provided the FBI with increasingly powerful tools that the bureau has used in violation of the First and Fourth Amendments, according to the ACLU report.

Other powers the FBI simply assumed for itself by revising internal guidelines that govern the FBI’s investigative and data collection authorities. These revisions have provided the FBI with increasingly broad powers, allowing its agents to investigate and collect information on Americans with no factual basis to suggest wrongdoing.

The second half of the report documents how these powers have led to widespread abuse, both domestically and internationally, without public accountability. Since 9/11, the ACLU has uncovered and documented persistent evidence of FBI abuse, including warrantless wiretapping, racial and religious profiling, biased counterterrorism training materials, politically motivated investigations, abusive detention and interrogation practices, and misuse of the No-Fly List to recruit informants.

“The list of abuses is long and demonstrates that Congress must do a top-to-bottom review of FBI policies and practices to identify and curtail any activities that are unconstitutional or easily misused,” said Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project. “The time for wholesale reform has come.”