DOJ Helped AT&T, Others Avoid Wiretap Act, Promised Not To Charge Them If They Helped Spy On People
from the uh.... dept
Want to know one reason why the feds are so interested in giving blanket immunity to anyone who helps them spy on people? Perhaps because they’re already telling companies that they have immunity if they help them spy on people. Specifically, they’ve issued special letters of immunity, more or less helping companies like AT&T ignore the Wiretap Act.
Senior Obama administration officials have secretly authorized the interception of communications carried on portions of networks operated by AT&T and other Internet service providers, a practice that might otherwise be illegal under federal wiretapping laws.
The secret legal authorization from the Justice Department originally applied to a cybersecurity pilot project in which the military monitored defense contractors’ Internet links. Since then, however, the program has been expanded by President Obama to cover all critical infrastructure sectors including energy, healthcare, and finance starting June 12.
Basically, the Justice Department, at the urging of the NSA, went to various telcos and ISPs and issued secret letters which told them that if they violated the Wiretap Act, the DOJ promised them it would not prosecute. Not surprisingly, this kind of thing is not what you would generally consider legal. However, after CISPA… it would likely be more protected:
A report (PDF) published last month by the Congressional Research Service, a non-partisan arm of Congress, says the executive branch likely does not have the legal authority to authorize more widespread monitoring of communications unless Congress rewrites the law. “Such an executive action would contravene current federal laws protecting electronic communications,” the report says.
Because it overrides all federal and state privacy laws, including the Wiretap Act, legislation called CISPA would formally authorize the program without the government resorting to 2511 letters. In other words, if CISPA, which the U.S. House of Representatives approved last week, becomes law, any data-sharing program would be placed on a solid legal footing. AT&T, Verizon, and wireless and cable providers have all written letters endorsing CISPA.
Apparently, the DOJ knew how problematic this was, and the CEOs of the various ISPs had indicated how worried they were about this program, but it still went forward. In secret, of course. Until now.
Suddenly the emphasis on getting CISPA approved, and the attempts to frighten everyone with scare stories of what will happen without it, make a bit more sense…