The FBI however, since 1981 at least, has had the power to request ISPs and Internet companies to provide them with information relating to your sent and received emails.
It’s not so much their ability to acquire this information, it’s more so the method which is concerning. Instead of following normal legal channels, which would include getting a warrant through a judge, which would in turn be issued to the ISP or Internet company, the FBI is a little more under the radar with the approach.
FBI Letter to Your ISP
All the FBI has to do is send a letter to your ISP (Internet Service Provider), ordering them to send along your data.
They make it very clear that it’s against the law to disclose the letter and its intentions to anyone unless necessary (such as the IT department). Also, anyone that comes into contact with the letter or the operation is legally bound to secrecy (with the exception of talking to a lawyer for legal advice).
This eliminates legal safeguards and gags anyone who may disagree with the methods used by the FBI. So why do the FBI use this power?
Contained within the declassified Nation Security Letter (NSL) which was first drafted in 1981 under executive order 12333 with regard to the United States Code of the Electronics Communications Act, are a list of reasons why a person or company may have received such a notice.
These include counter-intelligence, counter-terrorism, criminal investigation and national security operations.
These, in my opinion, seem like pretty fair reasons to be snooping through a suspects email. However, it’s the FBI’s recent history of targeting protest groups and anti-war movements which is a cause for concern.
Social Networks and Privacy
Email (and other electronic communication such as Facebook, Twitter, blogging etc..) can reveal a lot about a person.
However, this should only be revealed to investigators under extreme circumstances where the danger posed by that person is great and they present a clear and present danger either to human life or to the nation.
I think this NSL is a little too open-ended and should require the stamp of approval from much higher up than an assistant director and special agent as, detailed in the agency guidelines attached to the letter.
Some say that the document goes against the first amendment, which guarantees the individual the right to free speech. While the NSL itself does’t prohibit an individual from speaking freely, the fact that the public now has knowledge of the FBI’s power to access such private information, they will feel less free to speak and organize through electronic communication.
Is Access to Email an Infringement of Free Speech?
Whatever your opinions on the letter, the point remains that the FBI have the ability to access the details of anybody’s emailing habits. From this, they can glean all sorts of information, such as who a person is associated with and, and they can intercept organizational patterns, both as part of personal and political communications.
An interesting point to note is that the first amendment does little to protect the freedom of commercial speech. So, if a company were to come under investigation, it would almost certainly give the FBI free reign to do whatever it is they saw fit with their power of access to the company’s communications.
It’s worth noting that this document is now 30 years old. It’s no longer in direct use, as the FBI updates their NSLs to keep up with current terminology and laws.
However, it does make you wonder what kind of abilities the FBI has when it comes to your electronic communication and the secrecy that would surround such abilities.
Would they even have to ask Google, Facebook or AOL for the details of your communications, or would they be able to just help themselves remotely?Originally published on TopSecretWriters.com