The FBI Wants Your Browsing History

Category: Privacy

The Obama administration is pushing to amend existing privacy law in a way that critics argue would allow the government access to internet browsing histories and other metadata -- without needing a warrant. Privacy advocates and tech firms are resisting this move. Here’s what you need to know and do…

Is Your Web Browsing Private?

A proposed amendment to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) would expand the FBI’s power to use National Security Letters (NSLs) to force companies to divulge more information about their customers online activities than the ECPA currently allows.

The new items that the feds want to demand include “electronic communications transactional records” such as phone logs, email transmissions and receptions, and cellular tower connection records used to pinpoint a mobile device’s location.

Oh, and there's one other little item they want... your browsing history. That includes a list of all Web pages you visit, what you say on social media sites, and what you purchase online.

FBI wants your browser history

Do not make the mistake that many are making after hearing “the feds are coming after your browsing history.” Most people think their browsing history is stored only on their local devices, and assume the feds intend to invade their phones, tablets, and PC. That is not the case at all! Instead, the ECPA authorizes the FBI to demand these records from the service providers who enable them.

So you can't simply clear your browser's history and hope to cover your online tracks. Nor will it matter if you use the "private browsing" or "incognito" feature of your web browser, because the history is not stored on your computer or phone. The feds will not be hacking you personally, but that is small comfort.

If this amendment to the ECPA is enacted, the feds will be able to demand this very personal and revealing data from your ISP, your cellular service carrier, social media service providers such as Facebook, any merchants with whom you do business online, and anyone else who stores records that are subject to disclosure under the ECPA.

Gag Me...

Worse, the businesses forced to turn over data about you are also forbidden to tell you they did so, or even that they received a NSL (National Security Letter) concerning you. Many would like to tell you, but the ones who have defied a NSL’s gag order can be counted on one hand; the penalties are very harsh.

The amendment would extend the scope of records subject to disclosure only in cases pertaining to terrorism or national security. But the FBI can pretty much just declare a case qualifies, and the secret judges on the secret court that rubber-stamps NSLs will rubber-stamp anything. That secret court, by the way, is the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court. In 2015, it received 1,457 requests for NSLs from the FBI and NSA. Not a single request was denied.

The FBI argues that this track record proves that national security agencies can be trusted to invade the privacy only of people who deserve it, as documented in the agencies requests for NSLs. But we, the people, cannot obtain those requests, so we cannot verify the FBI’s claim that intelligence agencies are scrupulously respectful of ordinary citizens’ privacy.

Your Voice Matters

Privacy advocacy groups including the Electronic Frontier Foundation are vigorously opposing the proposed amendment. They are joined by dozens of tech companies including Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo, -- which have signed an open letter to the Obama administration asking that it drop this amendment effort.

"We would oppose any version of these bills that included such a proposal expanding the government's ability to access private data without a court order," says the open letter, dated Monday, June 6, 2016. "The civil liberties and human rights concerns associated with such an expansion are compounded by the government's history of abusing NSL authorities," it adds.

You can add your voice to the opposition. Write to your Senators and Congressperson telling them that you oppose Senate Bill S.356 or any other effort to expand the scope of information subject to National Security Letter demands and gag orders. It’s a letter worth writing.

Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

Ask Your Computer or Internet Question

  (Enter your question in the box above.)

It's Guaranteed to Make You Smarter...

AskBob Updates: Boost your Internet IQ & solve computer problems.
Get your FREE Subscription!


Check out other articles in this category:

Link to this article from your site or blog. Just copy and paste from this box:

This article was posted by on 14 Jun 2016

For Fun: Buy Bob a Snickers.

Prev Article:
[WARNING] Paper Checks Can Lead to Fraud

The Top Twenty
Next Article:
Browser Alert: Will You Switch?

Most recent comments on "The FBI Wants Your Browsing History"

(See all 36 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

14 Jun 2016

Obama and his anti-American liberals can take a hike. Coke684 I'm sure is sincere...........but is sincerely wrong. There's many incorrect conclusions the government can derive from knowing where one has browsed...........and the government is fully capable of making false accusations.............Obama has been doing it for 7 1/2 years. “Islam has a proud tradition of tolerance.”

The government knows no boundaries once you give them an inch.

Posted by:

14 Jun 2016

Some of the responders have attempted to offer legitimate dialogue about the issue and some have merely sought to spew their political ideology. I'll do both.

I'd love to hear the thoughts of the framers of the Constitution if we told them that someday there would be a means of instant communication where bad guys could anonymously exchange the recipes for nuclear weapons and other weapons which wreak all sorts of havoc. That those bad guys could hold planning meetings virtually and secretly without having to ride two miles out of town to meet? I hate the thought of my information being in the hands of our government, but am open to the possibility that that is a cost of living in today's high-tech society. If we let the bad guys go high-tech, but handicap the authorities, what chance do we have?

Now, from the soapbox: Non-specific, dark warnings have been issued by previous posters about the Democratic candidate. Truth is, she is just another politician. On the other hand, the other candidate has offered us specific information about his lack of temperament, his hatred of other cultures, and his willingness to cheat (do illegal things?) as part of the "Art of the Deal". So what would such a person do with free reign access to our personal information?

Posted by:

Leisure Suit Larry
14 Jun 2016

Those who say, "don't worry if you haven't done anything wrong" should look into the case of Richard Jewel and the FBI.

It's on the Wiki.

Posted by:

14 Jun 2016

"As is usual in these cases - if you have nothing to hide, what are you worried about?"

Remember, the "good" guys may be in power now, but sooner or later, the "bad" guys will have these tools. Then they'll define what you might want to hide. Dictators, and wannabees, love to have as much information as possible, just in case they need it.

Ever read "1984"? If you have, it's been too long ago. If not, go find a copy, and see how innocuous deeds AND THOUGHTS become crimes. You might want to peruse Solzhenitsyn, too. Of course, there are also the history lessons from tyrants who like to keep records in case they ever need to start "ethnic cleansing."

Posted by:

14 Jun 2016

Jacey, the purpose of the Constitution was to LIMIT government power, not expand it. The authority derived from the people, and was loaned to to government, not the other way around. The framers would be appalled at what has been done to their document.

As to your soapbox, Hillary wants power, just like any other politician. She wouldn't protect our liberties and privacy any better than she's already demonstrated.

Posted by:

Linda Comparillo
14 Jun 2016

Thanks for the heads up. I have written both my Senators and my Congressman requesting they oppose this bill and any others like it. There is too much secrecy attached. There needs to be a balance.

Posted by:

14 Jun 2016

AT LAST the FBI cannot 'walk the talk' strutting around the US and elsewhere boasting that they are the elite. They may have the best equipment but not the best brains or energy. This recent tragedy should not have happened as 'he' was already being 'observed' hahaha and, of course, 911 would not have happened if the so-called elite had not let the newbie pilot out of their sight and had co-operated with other enforcement agencies. Now they are human just like my MI5 and other less boastful European anti-terrorism organizations. They now need additional snooping powers???? DON'T MAKE ME LAUGH

Posted by:

14 Jun 2016

"Pry-into-your-private-life" liberals doing what liberals do best. Oh yes, and the liberals will decide what ALL YOUR PRIVATE BROWSING HISTORY MEANS. They are professionals at telling others how to live their lives.

No Way Jose!

Posted by:

Dee Ingalls
14 Jun 2016

This is certainly par for the course......once they see who I pay online each month....they can take those payments over too.....wish I could sit in an office and think of all these corny ideas....they better start thinking of a way to get all these terrorists and go after them and leave us innocent guys alone!! Hate to bring it up but come on Donald Trump go for it...Make America Great Again !!
Good Day!!

Posted by:

Dave P.
14 Jun 2016

Hmm. Sounds like a bit of collusion here with our lovely UK Home Secretary, the pompous and self-opinionated Teresa May and her infamous "snoopers charter". Wonder if all these people who are allegedly in power and are supposed to represent the views of the populace (which they clearly do NOT!) would object to us mere mortals reading all their private communications and observing what websites THEY visit? I think there would be some rumblings here1

Posted by:

14 Jun 2016

I have frequently heard unaware, complacent, law-abiding citizens flippantly dismiss all this by stating, “well, I am not doing anything wrong, I have nothing to hide, so what does it matter?” Well it matters on many counts: You may be doing nothing wrong now but what if laws change and the everyday things you are doing now become unlawful? What if you are known to read ‘unacceptable’ thought-provoking or anti-establishment literature? We are already not too far from the position where having a difference of opinion to the ruling authority is akin to being a terrorist – ‘home-grown’ or otherwise. And if a stranger stalked you or stole your private details, you would feel violated and you would want something done about it. The notion that privacy does not matter if one has nothing to hide, implies that shame is the only reason anyone would want privacy. Privacy is necessary because individuals and institutions do not act in the best interest of others or society in general when in possession of others’ data. For example, people keep their PIN numbers private, not because they are ashamed of them, but because of what thieves can do with them. Evidently, these carefree folk have bought into the lie that surveillance is all for their protection, but it is also about control and the populace’s decreasing capacity to oppose the increasing power of the State. We are being ruled, not represented. It is a threat to democracy or, rather, to the illusion that democracy actually exists or even works.
Knowing they are being watched curtails people’s personal exploration and broadening of knowledge because people will (and do) limit what they will search for online for fear of the consequences. Fear reduces the likelihood of people wanting to speak their mind, to protest or of even being aware that there is something that requires protesting against.

Posted by:

Sidney Morrison
14 Jun 2016

To solve most of the FED's reach inro all areas will require a Conctututionsl Convention where we set ALL Potilicisns to a 2 term limit of 4 years each (lifetime)! No more career Politicians! Then they must live under & be subject to all laws & regulations & lifetime benefits ie SS like all citizens do now!

Bob you could commemnt as to what is going to happen when FED's figure out just how many Ancestry DNA's the Mornons are holding! Only Fools use this to find their roots!

Posted by:

J Russell
14 Jun 2016

As stated, that law would be unacceptable to me. If the FBI or any authorized government agency is looking at my records, then I have the right to know they are doing it. Period. They should not be permitted to restrain companies from telling the customer that their records are being reviewed and by whom. I say, go ahead and look, but I want to know who is doing the looking.

Posted by:

15 Jun 2016

Look at the damage J. Edgar Hoover did with his access to personal secrets just using illegal wiretaps and other intrusions. His was a hypocritical power trip with total disregard for the Constitution. Look it up. Don't mess with my privacy even if I'm not doing anything wrong. Do you know how hard it is to prove your innocence?

Posted by:

Old Man
15 Jun 2016

In the 1950’s I read Orwell’s 1984. At the time we joked about “Big Brother Is Watching YOU”. Our attitude: it is double most un-able (impossible) to happen here.
In the 1960’s I saw what, at the time, was high-tech monitoring equipment, and I began to think differently.
Over the next 30 years I watched technology move closer to Orwell’s description. That, coupled with government and society changes, convinced me that Orwell only got the date wrong.
When Digi-cams came out, people put them in and around their homes broadcasting their private lives. Now they’re part of home security systems. People carry high quality recording and tracking devices everywhere. Almost anywhere you go in town can (and often is) being recorded by someone. Even in the country, satellites can track you.
Movement toward an Orwellian state was like a rowboat; in the past 10 years it’s upgraded to a speedboat. Even the government uses technology to accelerate its invasion of our ‘private’ lives at a much faster pace. When technology/encryption blocks the government, it seeks ‘legal’ means to monitor ‘persons of interest’. (Only the government decides who these people are – and that frequently changes.)
The ‘War on terrorism’ provided Orwell’s unknown country which occasionally made attacks – killing someone outspoken against the government, but then declared a hero. (Note that for decades people outspoken against our government policy have died in unfortunate accidents or under suspicious circumstances. Also, some groups take credit for individual acts of terrorism/mass killings when they aren’t involved. Their being blamed for what our own government does naturally follows.)
As for the two groups, the privileged class will be those who embrace mobile devices, smart equipment and such. The outcasts will be those who, like me, don’t want them.
From my perspective, the stage is nearly set. We have a scapegoat for acts of violence, we are polarizing toward a two-class society, and only a few more laws or executive orders (like this one) are needed. The opposing tech giants and privacy advocates will be declared enemies of the state or meet with some catastrophe.
When will we reach the Orwellian State? I don’t know. However, I do believe it is much closer than most people realize.

Posted by:

15 Jun 2016

I'm not sure why the "I don't have anything to hide" argument ignores a large part of what privacy is. It's PRIVATE. Not shared with the world at large.

Our society has, traditionally, found that some things are private, not for public consumption. That doesn't mean they're illegal acts, or signs that we are bad people, but just things that we as a society, find helpful and more comfortable to keep private.

As a kid's book once noted, everybody poops. It's biology. It's nothing to be ashamed of. It's certainly not a criminal act. And yet - I close the bathroom door every time I use the toilet. Don't you?

Posted by:

john silberman
15 Jun 2016

This is not a right/left issue. Both sides have equally initiated actions to invade our privacy.

And Google, Apple, and Microsoft are just as bad quietly collecting information on us.

Posted by:

Marc Menard
15 Jun 2016

Hi Bob, hi all! Hot topic, I could not help but read all the comments. I entirely agree that the government is stuffing its collective nose where it shouldn't. Being Canadian though, I'm looking at this from here, yet "here" is really not a geographical concept anymore in this day and age of the Internet. It's all global, and a lot of the stuff we do "here" on the Internet actually transits through servers in the United States. Therefore, laws impacting the U.S. are going to have repercussions globally whether we want it or not. Guys, I'm thinking about going back to stamps. Soon...!

Posted by:

Pat C.
17 Jun 2016

I sick and tired of being sick and tired of IDIOTS wanting to know everything about everybody. The Gov. is going to get away with this s$#t if WE don't raise enough hell. Me, personally, am gonna raise all the hell my Grandpa taught my how to. Yell, scream and holler loud enough and tell them bastards they can go soak their heads in a bucket of pig poop.
The point is - yell, scream and holler to them that 'might' listen. Your elected officials.

Posted by:

25 Jun 2016

Yell all you want. Write and complain to Congress until your pen runs out of ink, and you lose your voice. The EFF is impotent.

The FBI, CIA, NSA, and other data-hoarders will do what they want, when they want, and to whomever they want, Constitution be damned. Laws, regulations, courts? Please. As Snowden revealed, those organizations pretend to be lawful, but aren't. Those in Congress are just enablers. Welcome to the New World Order; we are all just pawns in the game.

There's more reader feedback... See all 36 comments for this article.

Post your Comments, Questions or Suggestions

*     *     (* = Required field)

    (Your email address will not be published)
(you may use HTML tags for style)

YES... spelling, punctuation, grammar and proper use of UPPER/lower case are important! Comments of a political nature are discouraged. Please limit your remarks to 3-4 paragraphs. If you want to see your comment posted, pay attention to these items.

All comments are reviewed, and may be edited or removed at the discretion of the moderator.

NOTE: Please, post comments on this article ONLY.
If you want to ask a question click here.

Free Tech Support -- Ask Bob Rankin
Subscribe to AskBobRankin Updates: Free Newsletter

Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved
About Us     Privacy Policy     RSS/XML

Article information: AskBobRankin -- The FBI Wants Your Browsing History (Posted: 14 Jun 2016)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved