Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Privacy concerns raised over FBI programs

from Democracy Now!

Privacy experts are raising alarm bells about a new FBI program that would pay private companies to hold millions of phone and Internet records the FBI is barred from keeping itself. Companies would be responsible for at least two years of network calling records. The program would allow the FBI to skirt laws banning the collection of data not directly connected to a criminal investigation or intelligence matter. The proposed companies involved are Verizon, MCI and AT&T.

This news comes as we learn that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales knew at the time he was testifying in favor of renewing the Patriot Act that the FBI had abused its powers under the Act to obtain personal information in violation of alleged suspects' civil liberties.

Marcia Hofmann, a lawyer for the nonpartisan Electronic Frontier Foundation, said, "I think these documents raise some very serious questions about how much the attorney general knew about the FBI's misuse of surveillance powers and when he knew it." A lawsuit by Hofmann's group seeking internal FBI documents about NSLs prompted the release of the reports.

Caroline Fredrickson, a lobbyist for the American Civil Liberties Union, said the new documents raise questions about whether Gonzales misled Congress at a moment when lawmakers were poised to renew the Patriot Act and keenly sought assurances that there were no abuses. "It was extremely important," she said of Gonzales's 2005 testimony. "The attorney general said there are no problems with the Patriot Act, and there was no counterevidence at the time."

The FBI is also in the process of developing a computer system to profile terrorists.

Privacy expert David Sobel, senior counsel for the nonprofit advocacy group Electronic Frontier Foundation, said the government's system depends on potentially unreliable data. "If we can't assess the accuracy of the information being fed into the system, it's very hard to assess the effectiveness of the system."

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