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The FBI wants to criminalise online privacy

The FBI and US Department of Justice is now encouraging internet cafe users to spy on the online activities of their fellow citizens.

The FBI’s “Communities Against Terrorism” notice lists a whole host of activities that the agency classifies as “suspicious” and a “potential indicator of terrorism”. You can read the full notice right here, but below is a list of some of the more innocuous activities that the FBI is concerned about

  • People who switch SIM cards in cell phones
  • Those who use anonymizers, portals or other means to shield IP address
  • Anyone making “suspicious communications” using VOIP or communicating through a PC game

If you spot any of these activities taking place in an internet cafe, the FBI recommends that you “gather information about individuals without drawing attention to yourself”, which includes “license plates, vehicle description, languages spoken and ethnicity.”

Criminalising privacy

Leaving aside perfectly innocent online activities such as “speaking to someone within a PC game”, the FBI’s list is particularly worrying in that it targets VPNs and other ‘anonymizers’ that help users shield their IP address. It seems that the US government is now making a concerted effort to criminalise – or at least create suspicion around – anyone who is legitimately concerned with online privacy.

This attempt by the FBI to demonise those who wish to protect their privacy is a bold move. However, it is sadly not unexpected. Attempts to undemocratically erode online privacy by US government agencies has been only escalating over the last two years.

The privacy war is surges ahead

Perhaps the most worrying development is the the FBI’s efforts to amend the US’ Electronic Communications Privacy Act. If the amendment is approved the FBI will have the power to demand internet service providers “report the activity of any user thought to be implicated in intelligence investigations.” The FBI wants to be able to request emails, and other confidential information, from ISPs and hold that data for up to 2 years, and it doesn’t want to be held accountable in its pursuit of such information.

If the FBI gets its way, any agent requesting user information does not need proof that the user is engaging in wrongdoing, nor does the agent need judges’ approval, all he needs is to believe the information would be beneficial to counter-intelligence operations. In other words, all that stands between the government and your personal information is the suspicions of individual FBI agents.

And it’s not just your emails that the FBI wants, the agency also wants to know what you’re doing when you’re on the move. It was revealed last month that the FBI agents had been in contact with Carrier IQ a technology company whose smartphone spyware caused a furore after being secretly installed on over 100 million devices by telecoms companies. Even worse, the FBI lied about having ever contacted Carrier IQ and still won’t reveal the nature of its correspondence with the company.

 An eye on Twitter

Now, it’s easy to think that none of this stuff will affect you. You’re not a terrorist, you don’t engage in suspicious activity, why would any government agency want to monitor you? Well the sad truth is you’re already being monitored by the US government to some extent, especially if you use a social network such as Twitter. Just ask UK citizen Leigh Van Bryan, who last week flew to Los Angeles for a vacation.

Upon arrival Mr Van Bryan was taken away and questioned for five hours by US Homeland Security, before being deported back to the UK. His crime? He posted the following joke message on Twitter: “”Free this week, for quick gossip/prep before I go and destroy America.” Make no mistake, big brother is watching, and they want your fellow citizens to watch you too!

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