Government Internet snooping is “tail wagging the dog”

If the federal government has its way, the vast array of social networking sites and other communications technologies such as Facebook, BlackBerry, and Skype, to name a few, would be forced by law to incorporate technology enabling the government easily to eavesdrop on all such communications.  Under a proposal being pushed by the Obama Administration, existing federal law dating back to the 1994 “Communications Assistance to Law Enforcement Act” (”CALEA” for short), would be expanded to include all technologies that have developed since that law took effect a decade and a half ago.  In fact, if such law were to become effective, certain technologies, such as Skype, which use encryption to ensure that computers assisting in “peer-to-peer” connections cannot “listen in,” would be illegal because the encryption thus employed could not be surveilled by the government (or at least, not readily surveilled).

The fact is, this latest government proposal is a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.  Court documents establish clearly that existing government powers to conduct electronic surveillance pursuant to court orders – or foreign intelligence surveillance not requiring such orders –  are rarely, if ever, thwarted by encryption.  Still, the Administration is raising the same, “the-sky-is-falling” tactics used in 1994 to scare the Congress into granting it these new, expanded powers to control communications technology.

A number of foreign governments, including India and Saudi Arabia, are battling companies like RIM, the manufacturer of the widely popular BlackBerry devices, because the companies are refusing to provide a way for those governments to eavesdrop on users of the devices.  However, concern with protecting the privacy of one’s electronic communications from unwanted government snooping clearly is not — or should not be — limited to foreign governments.  Our own government is pushing for the very same powers.

21 comments Add your comment

paleo-neo-carlinist the 1st, esquire

October 6th, 2010
8:10 am


October 6th, 2010
8:44 am

No mention of the Patriot Act?

barking frog

October 6th, 2010
8:47 am

Those who fear the government usually have reason
to fear the government.

Ragnar Danneskjöld

October 6th, 2010
8:52 am

Good morning all. I have ambivalent thoughts on the topic, which Nat Hentoff also addresses today. So long as the “fruit of the poisoned tree” doctrine is preserved, I am not gravely distressed by government snooping.

The doctrine prohibits the government from using at trial any improperly-obtained information. I generally deem “internet snooping” as “improperly obtained.” So if the Overlords use such info to target drones against foreign nationals, I am not gravely distressed; if the Holder “Justice” department uses such information to commence prosecutions, I am distressed.

Mr. Spock

October 6th, 2010
8:58 am

Big Brother has become a reality. It is scary to think where this could lead with a Socialist voting present in the White House


October 6th, 2010
9:14 am

“Those who fear the government usually have reason
to fear the government.”

Tell that to people saved from death row by The Innocence Project.


October 6th, 2010
9:23 am


Your comment on the quote you cited makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.


October 6th, 2010
10:13 am

Where is all the outrage from the left? Wasn’t it the left that went ballistic about the wiretapping of internationally known terrorist calling into America? I guess they don’t care if the government spies on their own people….


October 6th, 2010
10:18 am



October 6th, 2010
10:33 am

forget about CALEA, I’ve been name-jacked!

Ragnar nailed it. our host’s warning is of interest, only if anyone believes we have ever enjoyed and real 4th Amendment protection. my lord and savior George Carlin said it best; ‘power does what it wants’. in many ways this a nosey “Big Brother” is something of a cover charge, much like guns being used for criminal activity is one of the “costs” of the 2nd Amendment. we can debate (or over dramatize) the “legality” of the government’s behavior, but if the technology exists and the government exits, it’s a safe bet “technology” trumps the Bill of Rights. again, this is only an issue for those who believe they live in the Utopian States of America.


October 6th, 2010
10:52 am

But you know doubt support the Paetriot Act.


October 6th, 2010
11:24 am

The FBI’s “Carnivore” DCS-1000 packet sniffer with just a few computer strokes the connection is made directly between law enforcement computerized listening stations and the telephone service provider computerized switching stations. The laws of CALEA makes it clear that it cannot leagally be applied to internet connections.

Veri Sign [ a soft ware provider] said that tapping the internet is good for the nation. “Criminals have the ability to act on the internet in microseconds while law enforcement is encumbered today, with solutions that require weeks to institute judicially ordered capabilities.”

I agree with Veri Sign, law enorcement needs micro second capability to respond to threats. That laws should be instituted to insure micro second response to criminal/terrorist threat.


October 6th, 2010
12:03 pm

Yeah, what about the Patriot Act, Bobby? I’m sure you were/are a big supporter of W’s attempt to “watch” the masses.


October 6th, 2010
12:05 pm

Mr. Spock “Socialist voting present…” You most be Repubilcan becuase you cant’ evin spel.

Mr. Spock

October 6th, 2010
4:30 pm

Splavistic…You are truly brilliant. A real “gotcha observation”

The Ghost of Lester Maddox

October 6th, 2010
5:45 pm

Bob, why not author a nifty column, and let us see if the editors will allow it to be published, which answers the following question:

In the interest of full disclosure and transparency which is required of the candidates (especially of Republicans) HOW MUCH MONEY is the AJC and Cox Enterprises receiving from political ads in print and online?


Gorging on Ignorance

October 6th, 2010
5:47 pm

1984. ’nuff said.


October 6th, 2010
6:08 pm

Just frther evidence that Obama is just your standard “right center” politician. This and other federal incursions on the privacy of American citizens is a nasty power grab by the right, under the dubious guise of “terrorist threat” that seems to have all the conservatives spinning in a frenzy. Where are the real Libertarians, who should be outraged by the incessant erosion of the rights of American citizens perpetrated by the fear-mongers. They are, in fact, not Libertarians. They are just right wing extremists using a label of Libertarian or Tea Party as a pretense.

[...] via Government Internet snooping is “tail wagging the dog” | The Barr Code. [...]

"Information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment" - BHO, May 1, 2010

October 7th, 2010
8:22 pm

Mr Barr never comments in his own opinion pieces. I posted this on the other bloggists who earn whatever they make:

Off Topic and a bit winded but The Fruitloop at Fox News, 5pm, put it on and it’s worth posting:

“The Gods of the Copybook Headings” is a poem published by Rudyard Kipling in 1919. The central message of the poem is that basic and unvarying aspects of human nature will always re-emerge in every society.

The copybook headings to which the title refers were proverbs or maxims printed at the top of 19th century British schoolboys’ notebook pages. The students had to write them by hand repeatedly down the page.

The Gods of the Copybook Headings

AS I PASS through my incarnations in every age and race,
I make my proper prostrations to the Gods of the Market Place.
Peering through reverent fingers I watch them flourish and fall,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings, I notice, outlast them all.

We were living in trees when they met us. They showed us each in turn
That Water would certainly wet us, as Fire would certainly burn:
But we found them lacking in Uplift, Vision and Breadth of Mind,
So we left them to teach the Gorillas while we followed the March of Mankind.

We moved as the Spirit listed. They never altered their pace,
Being neither cloud nor wind-borne like the Gods of the Market Place,
But they always caught up with our progress, and presently word would come
That a tribe had been wiped off its icefield, or the lights had gone out in Rome.

With the Hopes that our World is built on they were utterly out of touch,
They denied that the Moon was Stilton; they denied she was even Dutch;
They denied that Wishes were Horses; they denied that a Pig had Wings;
So we worshipped the Gods of the Market Who promised these beautiful things.

When the Cambrian measures were forming, They promised perpetual peace.
They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.
But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “Stick to the Devil you know.”

On the first Feminian Sandstones we were promised the Fuller Life
(Which started by loving our neighbour and ended by loving his wife)
Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “The Wages of Sin is Death.”

In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “If you don’t work you die.”

Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew
And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true
That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more.

As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool’s bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;

And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!

"Information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment" - BHO, May 1, 2010

October 7th, 2010
8:25 pm

Bobb Barr could save his public image if he went on Dancing With The Stars and had to Tango with Bo Derek.