Tuesday, August 08, 2006

US Senate opens door to foreign snooping

US senators apparently felt so bad about not immediately giving the our own government all the power it wants to snoop on phone calls and Internet traffic within the United States' borders that it turned a piece of that power over to foreign governments instead.

The Senate went ahead and quietly ratified the Council of Europe's Convention on Cybercrime. The Electronic Frontier Foundation

After substantial pressure from the White House, the Senate
ratified the sweeping Convention on Cybercrime treaty.
Ratifying the Cybercrime treaty introduces not just one bad
Internet law into this country, but also invites the
enforcement of all the world's worst Internet laws.

The treaty requires that the U.S. government help enforce
other countries' "cybercrime" laws -- even if the act being
prosecuted is not illegal in the United States. Countries
that have laws limiting free speech on the Net could oblige
the FBI to uncover the identities of anonymous U.S. critics
or monitor their communications on behalf of foreign
governments. American ISPs would be obliged to obey other
jurisdictions' requests to log their users' behavior without
due process or compensation.

ZD Net's Declan McCallah explained the bad things that would happen if the treaty did not get fixed (and it didn't). If Russia ratifies,

President Vladimir Putin would be able to invoke the treaty's powers to
unmask anonymous critics on U.S.-based Web sites and perhaps even snoop
on their e-mail correspondence. This is no theoretical quibble: The
onetime KGB apparatchik has squelched freedom of speech inside Russia
and regularly muzzles journalists and critics...

No wonder that U.S. Internet service providers are worried about
becoming surveillance arms for despotic regimes. One lobbyist told me
the industry doesn't believe the Bush administration's assurances that
the treaty's awesome powers will never be misused....

In a letter to the Senate, the American Civil Liberties Union spelled out some problems. "France and Germany have laws prohibiting the advertisement for sale of Nazi memorabilia or even discussing Nazi philosophy, activities that are protected in the United States under the First Amendment," the letter said. "These countries could demand assistance from the United States to investigate and prosecute individuals for activities that are constitutionally protected in this country."

Other potential problems with the treaty include requiring that participating nations outlaw Internet-based copyright infringement as a "criminal offense" even if it's not done for a profit, and prohibiting, in some cases, the "distribution" of computer programs that can be used for illicit purposes.

How much winking and nodding do you think is going to go on between our feds and foreign feds to arrange domestic spying that would be illegal under US law?

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