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.In case you need a reminder of the fun stuff national security letters—which are the intelligence-gathering equivalent of the presidential signing statement: a stroke of the pen to magically turn dubiously ethical and formerly prohibited actions into perfectly legal maneuvers, with no legislation, no oversight, and no knowledge of the American people required—were used for during the Bush administration, here's a refresher.
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.
That Obama, who strolled into office on promises to curtail exactly this sort of abuse of extrajudicial power, is now petitioning to expand that power is a naked betrayal of spectacular proportions.
The profundity of my contempt for this administration defies description.
[Previously in Third Term of Bush: One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight, Nine, Ten, Eleven, Twelve, and there are about a zillion more, but you get the drift.]