Archive for Wednesday, January 2, 2002

Shouts and Murmurs

The ‘rights’ must be remembered

January 2, 2002

In the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, acts of terrorism against this nation, America saw a renewed surge of patriotism.

There seemed to be more sincerity to this show of patriotism than during the Gulf War of the late 1980s when it seemed almost everyone sported a flag-decked T-shirt and the war itself seemed more like a video game than something to which we in mid-America could relate on a day-to-day basis. In 2001, America itself was hurt and the hurt engulfed the nation. As citizens, we responded by flying the flag and by donating funds to be sent to the families of the victims.

America's search for the perpetrators of these vile acts of terrorism quickly led to the enactment of new laws. The "Uniting and Strengthening America Act by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001," otherwise known as the USA Patriot Act, was on Oct. 25, 2001, signed into law by President George W. Bush.

While taking a course on Internet Law at Kansas University this past semester, I wrote a research paper on Carnivore, a system developed by the FBI to filter e-mails and track Web searches.

The USA Patriot Act allows the FBI and CIA to use this Internet filtering system, initially called "Carnivore," because of its ability "to get to the meat of a matter," in the search for terrorists. Carnivore and other similar programs are known to have been used by the FBI since July 2000.

According to an FBI spokesman, Carnivore only reads the "to and from" information on the e-mail headers of specific individuals. But with all due respect, as any "computer geek" knows, all e-mails contain content, including the subject line and the body of the correspondence itself.

Moreover, while the USA Patriot Act will expire in 2005, the parts of the act that deal with Carnivore do not fall under the sunset clause. In other words, the government has given itself a carte blanche to filter e-mails and track Web searches for an unspecified period of time. In addition, the USA Patriot Act relaxes the stipulations needed to gain judicial permission to filter the e-mails.

This matter seems to be of little concern to Americans, who for the most part, are unaware of the filtering devices, are rightfully swept up in the desire to capture the terrorists and who honestly say it's OK if the government filters their e-mail because as they commonly say: "I have nothing to hide."

Dave Farber, chief technologist for the Federal Communications Commission, and a board member of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a group that advocates Internet privacy rights, said this public acceptance is a broad concern. Farber was one of the privacy rights experts I interviewed when writing my paper.

Farber said it may be true that a individual may have nothing to hide, but asks: "Does that give the government the right to put a camera in your virtual bedroom?"

In short, George Orwell's "1984" has arrived, he said. Farber recommends that everyone read or re-read the 1949 novel in which "Big Brother" uses extreme measures to monitor and control every aspect of peoples' lives.

While America's recent surge of patriotism is impressive, Americans, Farber said, need to understand what stands behind the flag what it is that makes America great.

The best place to start, he said, is the Bill of Rights, the amendments to the Constitution of the United States of America.

The government-allowed uses of Carnivore violate the First and Fourth amendments, Farber said.

Of the First Amendment, which allows for freedom of speech, Farber said, "If I know the government can read what I write, of course that will affect my freedom of speech."

And the potential violations of the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures of persons, houses, papers and effects, are obvious, he said.

This column this week is not to debate the right or wrong of the use of Internet filtering systems such as Carnivore.

Rather, this column is to encourage all Americans, yes even those of us in Tonganoxie, Kansas, to think about the rights we have as Americans. To realize that it is rights such as those that are spelled out in the Bill of Rights that separates us from citizens of oppressed nations. To realize that Americans must be ever-vigilant to see that these rights are protected.

Like the average citizen, I know far too little about our nation's Bill of Rights. But I plan, during these first weeks of 2002, to study this with you. As Farber said, history shows that a right taken away can be returned, but he said, it always takes much longer for a "right" to be returned than it did for it to be taken away.

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