The FBI has long been searching for a way to bypass the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution which they have claimed makes their job difficult, increasingly so in the information age. Previously the FBI just broke the law and hoped it would not get caught, now the agency wants a patina of legality to cover its transgressions against liberty.

Despite the introduction and continued re-authorization of the PATRIOT Act the FBI still claims it does not have enough power to police American politics and stop crime. The FBI’s solution to its lack of total information awareness is to have every communications company in the world install surveillance software the FBI can access. Not surprisingly the business community was upset – not at the privacy invasion but at the money it would cost to install and maintain these systems. Technology startups would be particularly hard hit by this Orwell Tax by having to take capital out of research and development and put it into designing spyware. A turn key global surveillance system and who turns the key and why will often be secret information.

Now it is reported that President Obama is on the verge of supporting the FBI’s plan to expand surveillance power to the point of virtually ending the 4th amendment on the internet.

The Obama administration, resolving years of internal debate, is on the verge of backing a Federal Bureau of Investigation plan for a sweeping overhaul of surveillance laws that would make it easier to wiretap people who communicate using the Internet rather than by traditional phone services, according to officials familiar with the deliberations…

While the F.B.I.’s original proposal would have required Internet communications services to each build in a wiretapping capacity, the revised one, which must now be reviewed by the White House, focuses on fining companies that do not comply with wiretap orders. The difference, officials say, means that start-ups with a small number of users would have fewer worries about wiretapping issues unless the companies became popular enough to come to the Justice Department’s attention.

What a great standard. Should your company come to the Justice Department’s attention they will order you to change how your company works. That is free enterprise?

Albert Gidari Jr., who represents technology companies on law enforcement matters, criticized that proposed procedure. He argued that if the United States started imposing fines on foreign Internet firms, it would encourage other countries, some of which may be looking for political dissidents, to penalize American companies if they refused to turn over users’ information.

“We’ll look a lot more like China than America after this,” Mr. Gidari said.

That seems unfair. The Chinese police state actually stops criminals along with political dissidents. As the Boston Marathon Bombing demonstrated the FBI just builds massive databases of potential suspects until the databases are so large they can’t be managed, then the FBI misses clear warnings and after the attack occurs the FBI blames the screw up on a lack of power in order to secure more resources and authority. Rinse and repeat. Apparently it works.

Don’t worry though, the FBI does have the time and attention span to interfere with first amendment protected activity. And I am sure these new laws will help Homeland Security perform its daily monitoring of law-abiding American citizens more easily. Because according to the FBI and perhaps the White House, a free society is a society where the citizens have no privacy and the government has all the secrets.

Photo by White House under Public Domain