Using legacy phonecall wiretapping laws to justify Internet wiretapping is obscene: immense expansion of surveillance

Using legacy phonecall wiretapping laws to justify Internet wiretapping is obscene: immense expansion of surveillance
By Rick Falkvinge

The FBI vs. Apple case, where the FBI demands that Apple should write new code to the FBI to decrypt a locked iPhone in the San Bernadino case, is starting to highlight a very important discrepancy: wiretapping a modern phone or the internet isn’t wiretapping a phonecall. It’s closer to, but beyond, reading the most private diary.

As communications gradually shifted onto the net from POTS (technical jargon for “Plain Old Telephone System”), law enforcement demanded laws to “keep pace”. They demanded that the wiretapping laws they had been able to use as investigative tools before were made “technology neutral”, and would apply just the same to the Internet.

This immense expansion of surveillance power happened without any debate whatsoever, among law enforcement saying things like “we’re just doing what we’ve always done, what we’ve always had the right to do”, and “it’s just a technical adjustment to keep up with how people use technology”.

But what happened when wiretapping was expanded to the internet?

Before this “technical adjustment”, law enforcement could wiretap conversations between people. End of story.

Afterwards, law enforcement could also wiretap the following:

  • What news articles you read, for how long, and in what order
  • Your travel plans
  • Your dating habits
  • What you’re buying
  • What you’re thinking of buying but didn’t
  • Whom you’re in touch with but didn’t talk to
  • What you were looking for more information about, and when
  • What link(s) you follow, given a selection
  • Your physical movement through cities, and within a city
  • …the list goes on.

This immense expansion – this ridiculously immense expansion – of law enforcement surveillance power happened without any political debate at all, merely the weaseling “we just want what we’ve always had”. That’s politically repulsive.

(It’s important here, by the way, to note that aligning with law enforcement isn’t the same thing as being ethical. If you’re using government legislation as your guidebook for ethics, you’re likely to come away very disappointed. Also, even if your own country is a knight in shining armor, you’ll probably agree that there are others who aren’t.)

In contrast, a diary usually has very extensive protection in law against search and seizure – the bar is set far higher for opening and examining somebody else’s diary than for intercepting correspondence. I would argue that an smartphone, or a laptop for that matter, is far more private than a diary still, as you would choose what to write in a diary, but a phone or a laptop essentially contains a history of your thought process.

A Slate article today brings up just this important point: an iPhone (or an Android phone) is not the phone your parents and grandparents legislated about – it’s effectively an extension of your mind. (Unfortunately, the article muddles this important key point by trying to make it a point whether corporations or governments are more dangerous instead.)

This debate still needs to happen.

Privacy remains your own responsibility.

The post Using legacy phonecall wiretapping laws to justify Internet wiretapping is obscene: immense expansion of surveillance appeared first on Privacy Online News.

March 1, 2016 at 08:29PM
via Privacy Online News

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