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Sunday, February 17, 2008

FISA - Who Cares?

On the blogs I read, a substantial amount of discussion is devoted to FISA. FISA stands for "Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act". Superficially, FISA allows the Federal Government broad discretion when wiretapping/intercepting communications between someone in the USA and someone outside the USA. Some people say that it has been extended to cover ALL electronic communication that occurs in the USA, including between US citizens.

FISA places practically no obstacles to obtaining a wiretap order. There is a administrative court that specializes in FISA requests. This court rubber-stamps all requests "approved" without serious scrutiny.

There's another aspect of the recent FISA law that has people outraged. The telecom corporations, by aggressively cooperating with all FISA requests, may be subject to civil claims. If your telephone provider or ISP cooperates with an unwarranted FISA request, you can sue them for damages.

However, the recent FISA law change includes a blanket retroactive immunity provision for telecom corporations. If a telecom corporation cooperates with a FISA request, they are absolutely immune from civil or criminal liability. Both the corporation and its management are immune from liability.

This law seems like it lets telecom corporations off the hook for illegal wiretapping. However, that's the ENTIRE POINT OF A CORPORATION. Corporations and their management have "sovereign immunity". They are immune from prosecution if they do something wrong. A large corporation is an extension of the government. If you read the FISA immunity law as follows, it makes more sense:

The Federal branch of government has granted immunity to the telecom/corporate branch of government.

When I read the FISA amendment that way, my reaction is "Of course large corporations get immunity from prosecution. That's the entire point of the legal system and economic system."

Besides, a huge wiretapping operation isn't quite the same as the government going around arresting everyone. At some point, going around arresting everyone becomes impractical. Just because the red market is collecting a lot of data, that doesn't mean they're capable of using it intelligently.

The bottom line for me is that the FISA law is bad, but there are other things that outrage me more. Compared to the Federal Reserve, the income tax, and excessive government regulations, the FISA law is unimportant.

I would like to see people get in the habit of strong-encrypting all their E-Mail communications. With ISPs cracking down on file sharing, some P2P software applications are fighting back by encrypting their traffic. There's no way to prevent people from encrypting their Internet communications without gutting the Internet. You can never be completely sure nobody is tracing your communication. There could always be a keystroke logger installed on your PC without your knowledge.

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