The ink of the latest blog post about privacy issues online has barely dried or again there are some troubles in paradise. This time the wind blows from the political corner, more specifically from US President Bush, but don’t click away, this is not a political post and most probably concerns you directly.
Thursday morning the President signed a new bill into law concerning the government’s power to spy on telecommunications. More particularly this law gives the US government the power to order Google, Yahoo and AT&T to forward all e-mail communications where one party is thought to be overseas.
Are you living in the UK? Are you corresponding with American friends? Two positive answers to these questions ensures the right for the US Government to have a look into your Gmail inbox. Only one positive answer? Well, if the governement ‘thinks’ you are overseas they have the right to peep as well.
Obviously the law is created to protect the scared US citizens from malicious terrorists, but such a breach of privacy is raising a lot of voices. The biggest opposition comes from journalists. In order to make news and bring overseas stories, journalists communicate frequently with confidential correspondents overseas. If all these e-mails can be monitored by the US government, the journalistic freedom is at stake and censorship is not far away.
Based on this reasoning the ACLU has filed a suit against the new law, claiming that it breaches the fourth amendment and is therefore not constitutional. Other lawsuits will probably follow by online rights organisations in the US.
It was Mark Klein an engineer at AT&T who first blew the whistle and came out with documents proving the governments acces to confidential internet data, after discovering a NSA approved room being built in the company. The lawsuit resulting from the publishing of these documents now seems lost, as the Congress gave the President the power to monitor these data anyway.