This effort ought to be stopped dead in its tracks. The answer should be “NO,” “hell no,” or “No, and don’t you dare ask for it again”:
The Obama administration is seeking to make it easier for the FBI to compel companies to turn over records of an individual’s Internet activity without a court order if agents deem the information relevant to a terrorism or intelligence investigation.
The administration wants to add just four words — “electronic communication transactional records” — to a list of items that the law says the FBI may demand without a judge’s approval. Government lawyers say this category of information includes the addresses to which an Internet user sends e-mail; the times and dates e-mail was sent and received; and possibly a user’s browser history. It does not include, the lawyers hasten to point out, the “content” of e-mail or other Internet communication.
But what officials portray as a technical clarification designed to remedy a legal ambiguity strikes industry lawyers and privacy advocates as an expansion of the power the government wields through so-called national security letters. These missives, which can be issued by an FBI field office on its own authority, require the recipient to provide the requested information and to keep the request secret. They are the mechanism the government would use to obtain the electronic records.
If the federal government has a good reason to need such information, it can explain those reasons to a judge. “National security letters” are already widely overused as a means of acquiring personal information without a judicial order. As the Post story points out, “The Justice Department issued 192,500 national security letters from 2003 to 2006, according to a 2008 inspector general report, which did not indicate how many were demands for Internet records. A 2007 IG report found numerous possible violations of FBI regulations, including the issuance of NSLs without having an approved investigation to justify the request.”
The type of authority sought by the Obama administration would allow it to conduct warrantless searches that are forbidden under the Fourth Amendment, and our Founding Fathers would clearly recognize it as an unacceptable encroachment of government power on the individual.
That is, once you explained to them about what a browser is, and what emails are.