an extreme faction in the law enforcement community grabbed a huge hunk of power over our lives, and got away with it
Few Americans know about it yet, but the legal mandate to create a technology infrastructure for massive electronic spying on large numbers of US citizens was approved by Congress in 1994.
The scope and cost and chilling implications of the 1994 legislation are now beginning to become clear. On November 2, 1995, an article in the New York Times, headlined "FBI Proposes Vast System of Phone Taps" pointed out some of details revealed in the Federal Register. It looks like an extreme faction in the law enforcement community grabbed a huge hunk of power over our lives, and got away with it because only a small fraction of the American population knew what the FBI was trying to do.
Our free press failed to let us know Big Brother was coming, cloaked in digital guise.I suspect that few citizens from any part of the American political spectrum would approve of the unprecedented freedom to spy on us our Congressional representatives have given federal law enforcement agencies. To salt the wound, it looks like citizens are going to have to pay the bill (perhaps up to one-half billion dollars) for installing the necessary equipment.
At the same time that Congress is telling us it is drastically cutting the cost of government and getting the government out of our lives, it has authorized the FBI to get its surveillance hooks so deeply into digital communication technology that it will be possible to tap one out of a thousand phone calls SIMULTANEOUSLY.Keep in mind that the FBI executed warrants for only 800 wiretaps in 1994. And the cost, which could run into hundreds of millions, will be borne either by the taxpayers or the ratepayers. This is not a paranoid fantasy of a future super-snooping technology and a populace so stupefied and misinformed that they willingly allow the installation of a surveillance-state. This is the result of HR 4922, 1994's Communication Assistance for Law Enforcement Act. This legislation, more popularly known as the "Digital Telephony Act" is not a bad dream. It's the law of the land, and now we're beginning to find out what it means. The "Panopticon" was a notorious design for a prison, described by British author Jeremy Bentham. By arranging the prisoner's cells and an appropriate lighting system, it is possible for a single guard to see every detail of a thousand prisoner's cells. Of course, a single prison guard couldn't spy on all thousand prisoners simultaneously. However, because guards could easily spy on a significant fraction of the prison population quickly, and because the prisoners never knew whether or not they were being specifically surveilled, the design resulted in a docile and submissive prison populace.
The FBI and other law enforcement agencies exist to protect citizens from crime, but it is vitally important to a free society for law enforcement agencies to be controlled by the citizens. Without the consent of the governed, the State can become the most dangerous criminal of all.
It is vitally important to a free society for law enforcement agencies to be controlled by the citizens.
New technologies such as digital communication and encryption pose special problems for law enforcement, and our society ought to discuss and debate ways for enforcing laws without spying on law-abiding citizens. The time has come for citizens to demand of the FBI why they want to wiretap one out of a thousand telephones (more than 150,000 telephones) simultaneously when they currently admit to wiretapping fewer than a thousand people a year. It's too late to stop the legislation. But it's not too late to look closely at the true size of the bill for FBI's proposed wiretap wonderland, and at who will end up paying for it. When Congress is arguing about cutting medical benefits for the elderly, do we really want to pay a half billion dollars for wiretapping?
EPIC's website for digital telephony is the place to go to find the latest news.