The FBI Wants Your Browsing History
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.
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.
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...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 14 Jun 2016
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- The FBI Wants Your Browsing History (Posted: 14 Jun 2016)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved