Wednesday, April 9, 2008

FBI Has Spy Program Tracking IM, Emails, and Cell Phones

FBI Has Spy Program Tracking IM, Emails, and Cell Phones

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FBI also spies on home soil for military, documents show; Much information acquired without court order

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has been routinely monitoring the e-mails, instant messages and cell phone calls of suspects across the United States — and has done so, in many cases, without the approval of a court.

Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act and given to the Washington Post — which stuck the story on page three — show that the FBI’s massive dragnet, connected to the backends of telecommunications carriers, "allows authorized FBI agents and analysts, with point-and-click ease, to receive e-mails, instant messages, cellphone calls and other communications that tell them not only what a suspect is saying, but where he is and where he has been, depending on the wording of a court order or a government directive," the Post says.

But agents don’t need a court order to track to track the senders and recipients names, or how long calls or email exchanges lasted. These can be obtained simply by showing it’s "relevant" to a probe.

RAW STORY has placed a request to the Electronic Frontier Foundation for the new documents, and will post them upon receipt.

Some transactional data is obtained using National Security Letters. The Justice Department says use of these letters has risen from 8,500 in 2000 to 47,000 in 2005, according to the Post.

Last week, the American Civil Liberties Union released letters showing that the Pentagon is using the FBI to skirt legal restrictions on domestic surveillance.

Documents show the FBI has obtained the private records of Americans’ Internet service providers, financial institutions and telephone companies, for the military, according to more than 1,000 Pentagon documents reviewed by the ACLU — also using National Security Letters, without a court order.

The new revelations show definitively that telecommunications companies can transfer "with the click of a mouse, instantly transfer key data along a computer circuit to an FBI technology office in Quantico" upon request.

A telecom whistleblower, in an affidavit, has said he help maintain a high-speed DS-3 digital line referred to in house as the "Quantico circuit," which allowed an outside organization "unfettered" access to the the carrier’s wireless network.

The network he’s speaking of? Verizon.

Verizon denies the allegations vaguely, saying "no government agency has open access to the company’s networks through electronic circuits."

The Justice Department downplayed the new documents.

A spokesman told the Post that the US is asking only for "information at the beginning and end of a communication, and for information "reasonably available" by the network.

The FBI’s budget for says the collection system increased from $30 million in 2007 to $40 million in 2008, the paper said.

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