September 17, 2001

EFF asks vigilance in protecting rights

Author: JT Smith

The Electronic Frontier
Foundation (EFF) today urged governmental officials to act
deliberately in the coming days and to approve only
measures that are effective in preventing terrorism while
protecting the freedoms of Americans.

In a press conference earlier today, Attorney General John
Ashcroft indicated that he would be asking Congress to
expand the ability of law enforcement officers to perform
wiretaps in response to the terrorist attacks on the United
States on September 11, 2001. Ashcroft asked Congress to
pass anti-terrorism legislation including "expanded
electronic surveillance" by the end of this week.

Ashcroft's comments come in the wake of the Senate's hasty
passage of the "Combating Terrorism Act" on the evening of
September 13 with less than 30 minutes of consideration on
the Senate floor.

EFF believes this broad legislation would result in
unintended negative consequences for civil liberties of
law-abiding citizens by making it unnecessary for law
enforcement officers to obtain a court wiretap order before
requiring Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to release
e-mail message header information and Internet browsing
patterns of their subscribers. The bill would also
authorize local U.S. attorneys to authorize certain
surveillance orders.

During the Congressional session considering the Combating
Terrorism Act, which was introduced as an amendment
to an omnibus appropriations bill, Senator Patrick Leahy
(D-VT) expressed concern that he was asked to vote so
rapidly on such important legislation within minutes of
receiving it and without conducting hearings in the
Intelligence, Armed Services and Judiciary committees:

"Maybe the Senate wants to just go ahead and adopt new
abilities to wiretap our citizens. Maybe they want to adopt
new abilities to go into people's computers. Maybe that
will make us feel safer. Maybe. And maybe what the
terrorists have done made us a little bit less safe. Maybe
they have increased Big Brother in this country.

"If that is what the Senate wants, we can vote for it. But
do we really show respect to the American people by
slapping something together, something that nobody on the
floor can explain, and say we are changing the duties of
the Attorney General, the Director of the CIA, the U.S.
attorneys, we are going to change your rights as Americans,
your rights to privacy? We are going to do it with no
hearings, no debate. We are going to do it with numbers on
a page that nobody can understand."

EFF shares Senator Leahy's concerns in this time of
national crisis. EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn commented,
"These proposals significantly impact the civil liberties
of Americans. We urge legislators to please slow down and
consider the long-term consequences of your votes."

"I believe that deep in their souls, Americans understand
that the reason this country is so great--is so worth
defending--is because it is free," explained EFF Executive
Director Shari Steele. "We should be very careful to make
sure that any legislation that passes is truly needed to
address national security concerns."

During World War I, the US Congress hastily passed the
Espionage Act which was notorious for decreasing freedoms
without improving the security of the American public.
The Postmaster General instructed 55,000 local postmasters
to remove any materials that "embarrassed" the government
in conducting the war effort.

About EFF:

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is the leading civil
liberties organization working to protect rights in the
digital world. Founded in 1990, EFF actively encourages and
challenges industry and government to support free
expression, privacy, and openness in the information
society. EFF is a member-supported organization and
maintains one of the most linked-to websites in the world:
http://www.eff.org/

The Combating Terrorism Act (S1562) passed by the Senate:
http://www.eff.org/sc/wiretap_bill.html

Senator Leahy's testimony on the Combating Terrorism Act:
http://www.fas.org/sgp/congress/2001/s091301.html

EFF analysis of the Combating Terrorism Act [coming soon]:
http://www.eff.org/sc/eff_wiretap_bill_analysis.html

Why "backdoor" encryption requirements reduce security:
http://www.crypto.com/papers/escrowrisks98.pdf

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