Prepare to Read the Fine Print in Your ISP Agreement

If Rep. Darrell Issa has his way, you'll need to read the fine print carefully before signing up with an Internet Service Provider:

Issa suggested that Internet providers could get "consent from every single person who signed up to operate under their auspices" for federal police to monitor network traffic for attempts to steal personal information and national secrets.

Issa's plan would give the FBI yet another mechanism for invading your privacy.

"That's very troubling," said Greg Nojeim, director of the project on freedom, security, and technology at the Center for Democracy and Technology. "It could be an effort to achieve, through unknowing consent, permission to monitor communications in a way that would otherwise be prohibited by law."

Do you really want to consent to an an "FBI-can-monitor-everything clause" when you sign up with an ISP? Since most of us would balk at such a blatant invasion of our privacy, and since people who send us email (particularly from another country) may not themselves have consented to sharing their thoughts with the FBI, Issa has a back-up plan which, unsurprisingly, is even worse. (more...)

Issa said he wants to "craft" legislation that would give the FBI the power to look "for those illegal activities, and then act on those, both defensively and, either yourselves or certainly other agencies, offensively in order to shut down a crime in process."

As a condition of using electronic communication, the law would require you to give up your Fourth Amendment privacy protections? FBI Director Robert Mueller is all for it. He wants Congress to "give us the ability to pre-empt that illegal activity." People who respect the Bill of Rights have a different view.

"I think you bump squarely into the Fourth Amendment when you get into the required waiver of constitutional protections to use a service," said [Al] Gidari, the [telecommunnications] attorney at Perkins Coie. "Why don't we extend it to include not criticizing the government? Which right is next? 'You may use our service, as long as you don't disparage Verizon?' Why not that one?...You've still got to have, at the end of the day, a constitutionally supportable legal process to get access to anyone's communications. This cannot be an end run around that."

Kurt Opsahl, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, warns against the Orwellian vision that Issa and Mueller share:

[I]t seems that [Mueller's] saying, essentially, that the surveillance society is the best society. A society in which the government has complete information about illegal activities and is able to enforce that.

The parameters of the law that Mueller and Issa contemplate are sketchy. Whatever the details of the legislation might turn out to be, you can be sure that dire threats of "cyber-terrorism" will be invoked to induce fear, the surest way to convince people of the need to surrender their rights. You can also be sure that the FBI will promise not to abuse any new powers it receives -- a promise with as much value as used toilet paper.

[I]t's worth keeping in mind that the FBI has a recent, and not very flattering, history of trying to expand the scope of surveillance methods. Bureau agents used so-called exigent letters to obtain records from telephone companies, claiming that an emergency situation existed. In reality, there was often no emergency at all. The Justice Department's inspector general found similar abuses of national-security letters. The FBI also tried to bypass the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court when it denied requests to obtain records.

Moral: next time you sign up with an ISP, read the fine print.

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  • Display: Sort:
    Rep. Darrell Issa? Is this the same guy (5.00 / 2) (#1)
    by nycstray on Fri Apr 25, 2008 at 11:45:02 PM EST
    that was arguing, in the very recent past, that 9/11 was not an attack on America, but an attack on NYC so the fed government wasn't obligated to allocate funds towards 9/11 issues?

    Well, I think this 'plan' of his needs more exposure. Thanks for the heads up.

    Do I have a choice? (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by TalkRight on Fri Apr 25, 2008 at 11:45:07 PM EST
    Moral: next time you sign up with an ISP, read the fine print.

    But do I really have any choice.. I cannot live without the internet so I guess I just click yes to that damn agreement.. btw: if you have ever tried to read any of the software licenses before you install them like the google search etc, those are equally if not more damning.

    Well (none / 0) (#3)
    by Josmt on Fri Apr 25, 2008 at 11:56:18 PM EST
    This is something interesting... I guess we should just become hackers and hide our IP behind a proxy.  This is getting ridiculous; do we have to sacrifice our freedom in order to "be safe"?

    pure evil (5.00 / 2) (#4)
    by DandyTIger on Sat Apr 26, 2008 at 12:17:02 AM EST
    Letter writing time. And this should be monitored for any ISP's that sign up to push this, even ahead of time.

    Actually, it doesn't take hacker skills to keep everything secure. Doing everything through a safe, anonymous, secure proxy is not that hard. And making sure all traffic to and from that proxy is encrypted is not that hard. Just a few clicks on your preferences, and the proxy of course. And of course, doing the same for your disk drives (including hidden partitions) is a must. Sadly the only way to ensure privacy.

    internet backbone monitoring (none / 0) (#7)
    by DandyTIger on Sat Apr 26, 2008 at 12:52:10 AM EST
    seems to be the main purpose here, so in addition to what I mentioned, it's a good idea to use pgp or something similar with your email and IM. Sad we have to think that way, but if you want your privacy, your clients privacy, your companies privacy, you have too.

    Not to go too OT, but (none / 0) (#8)
    by nycstray on Sat Apr 26, 2008 at 01:31:51 AM EST
    can you give us kinda clueless ones a hint as to where to start? (Mac/Entourage here)

    I'm pretty good at privacy. I don't show up on a google search, but would like to avoid any other invasion of privacy. Especially since I do sign confidentiality agreements with my clients. lol!~ How does that work in the newly perceived 'new world order'?


    sure (5.00 / 1) (#9)
    by DandyTIger on Sat Apr 26, 2008 at 02:13:22 AM EST
    The main elements of privacy protection are secure communications (esp. email and IM). There are two parts to that. One is the connection between you and your email provider (often your ISP, but perhaps your web hosting company). For secure email between your machine and your email host, you'll need to have that feature supported, and then you'd have something like SSL checked in your email account preference page.

    The other part to private communication is between you and the person you're talking too (via email or IM for example). For that, you'd need some form of encryption of the messages themselves where you have a key and the person receiving the message has a key. There are a number of packages out there. Here is a nice intro with pointers to packages. I use GnuPG.

    In addition to communication, protection of the information on your computer is a good idea. There are many systems for that. The mac has one built in called FileVault. You can also look for third party systems that are more exotic that include ways of hiding encrypted disks inside encrypted disks. Take a look at this system as an example.

    Finally I mentioned proxy servers above. Those are actually problematic. Here is an article about them and their problems. Only use a secure proxy server (or anonymizer) if you know the service is completely secure and reliable security-wise.

    Hope that helps.


    Except That (none / 0) (#24)
    by squeaky on Sun Apr 27, 2008 at 03:42:57 PM EST
    Freezing the RAM is easy enough to defeat any encryption.

    As a matter of fact, memory would hold its contents for a duration of seconds or even minutes with the power cut off. If that wasn't long enough, a can of compressed air used upside down will cryogenically freeze memory and keep the data intact for several minutes to an hours. This means the ultrasensitive encryption keys used to protect data can be exposed in the clear.



    blow them up (none / 0) (#25)
    by DandyTIger on Tue Apr 29, 2008 at 12:25:56 AM EST
    It's always fun in movies when a place is being raid, all the computers are rigged to blow up. But maybe that's going just a bit too far. :-)

    Just goes to show you, it's always something. But you can at least do something to protect client or company secrets. Otherwise all that communication is out in the open like a party line.


    Not a techie myself, (none / 0) (#18)
    by FlaDemFem on Sat Apr 26, 2008 at 09:45:13 AM EST
    I can use the computer and I see the Internet as a really big library where I can look up stuff, keep up with what is going on and stay in touch with friends. I don't know much about the actual workings of it, so can you answer a question for me?? I have sat link, not cable or landline, and I am wondering how they are going to manage that with sat links. Should I worry about encrypting or not?

    you should consider sat the same as cable or dsl (none / 0) (#26)
    by DandyTIger on Tue Apr 29, 2008 at 12:28:50 AM EST
    for the openness of the communication. That's because it all goes into the same internet infrastructure at some point. A good way to think of all the data running through the internet is to think of it as a party line. It's very easy for many people to tap in and listen.

    Of course for many things, that's no big deal. Basic research, newspaper reading, blogs, etc. But some things you'd like to protect a bit more. Usually email and IM communications. And at least those are pretty easy, finally.


    With all the love in the world to TL & BTD (5.00 / 1) (#5)
    by MikeDitto on Sat Apr 26, 2008 at 12:41:19 AM EST
    I'm glad I can still occasional updates on the politics of crime from TChris.

    I don't think Issa's got a snowball's chance in a turkey fryer to get that passed.

    He's just trying to scare up support for another run at a leadership position.

    Charges (5.00 / 1) (#6)
    by manys on Sat Apr 26, 2008 at 12:49:53 AM EST
    It should be a civil rights violation for a member of the government to propose a law that requires the suspension of any civil right. This is just government incursions by proxy and exactly what the Bill Of Rights was designed to prevent.

    an "adv." of "war on terror"? (4.00 / 1) (#10)
    by LCaution on Sat Apr 26, 2008 at 03:27:33 AM EST
    I guess this is just another "advantage" of declaring a "war on terror" that will extend forever.

    I wish one of the candidates would have the nerve to stand up and say that terrorist acts are crimes, the terrorists are criminals, and we will treat them as such - but that the govt. will not destroy the rights that make us Americans in order to provide a false sense of 100% safety.

    Unfortunately, I don't expect to hear this from Clinton, Obama or McCain.  

    I sometimes wonder what happened to the genes of all the millions of incredibly brave people who crossed an ocean in wooden boats and settled a wild country.  

    These days, it seems that all the govt. has to do is say "well, this will make you safe" and the corollary that "if you are not doing anything wrong, you don't have anything to worry about" and Americans just go along with it.

    San Diego also has a huge military (none / 0) (#13)
    by FlaDemFem on Sat Apr 26, 2008 at 07:46:32 AM EST
    population. And the military tend to be more conservative than most. Not necessarily Republican, but on the conservative side of their party.  

    And if my friend says yes to the FBI (none / 0) (#14)
    by lilybart on Sat Apr 26, 2008 at 08:26:08 AM EST
    and I say NO, they read my mail while they monitor my friend's mail, yes??

    When will this end?

    marketing of rights has been failure (none / 0) (#15)
    by seabos84 on Sat Apr 26, 2008 at 08:55:32 AM EST
    in large part because the right wing has done an excellent job, from the perspective of the fascists, of turning rights into a a bunch of high faluting b.s. used by affluent liberals to defend the indefensible.

    I agree with your arguements, but, I've been hearing them since before 1972 when I was 12 and f$%^ing Nixon was in office.

    Your arguements are correct - unfortuneatly the uber-educated style high minded big words big thoughts arguements don't catch people ----

    we need ads that will scare the SH$T outta the average person, ads about what these fascist ba#$ards want all this authority for --

    the fascists use fear to get the power, we need to use fear to stop the fascists, cuz they're fu#$ing scary.  


    Oh, please spare us the likes of Issa... (none / 0) (#16)
    by Anne on Sat Apr 26, 2008 at 08:56:27 AM EST
    who once again demonstrates how little he understands the importance of constitutional protections; he's another one who thinks there is nothing beyond the end of his own nose, who subscribes to the "if you're not doing anyting wrong, why do you care?" school of giving up your rights.  Precedent?  What's that?

    My own feeling is that this country is in more danger from people like Darrell Issa and the rest of the torches-and-pitchforks crowd, and in dire need of an education on why their rights are important to the health and life of the democracy.  Sadly, most people, as long as their lives seem normal, will ignore this kind of stuff until the day they are stopped on the street and asked for their "papers," and then it will be too late.

    Issa may be grandstanding for his own political purposes, but there are too many people who think like he does for my comfort, and many of them seem to have been appointed to the federal courts, so there is less of a guarantee that bad legislation is recognized as such and dealt with accordingly.

    Democrats in Issa's district need to run someone against him and win - the sooner the better.

    The Privacy (none / 0) (#17)
    by AnninCA on Sat Apr 26, 2008 at 09:30:18 AM EST
    violations have bothered me the most with the Bush administration, so I will read and pay attention.  It's a matter of principle.

    If people don't start taking a stand on this, we're going to lose our rights.  

    OT but would you reach across the Aisle (none / 0) (#19)
    by Florida Resident on Sat Apr 26, 2008 at 11:43:15 AM EST
    to someone like this?

    Critics are too polite (none / 0) (#20)
    by 1980Ford on Sat Apr 26, 2008 at 11:49:58 AM EST
    Imagine if our founders only said "Please don't tread on me." Another option is Vidalia and the TorButton. If it's good enough anonymity for Chinese revolutionaries, it's good enough for our China-like country.

    The Onion Routers need more servers though, and some who offer their connections might actually be promoting the police state.

    Any solutions for that?

    Details (none / 0) (#21)
    by 1980Ford on Sat Apr 26, 2008 at 12:00:10 PM EST
    For those curious enough to give Vidalia a try.

    Install FireFox if you don't already use it.

    Install the Vidalia bundle.

    Install the FireFox TorButton add-on (anonymous or not with a click).

    Install the FireFox RefControl add-on (so sites don't knew which site you came from).

    Done and fairly safe and anonymous for most purposes.

    It does sometimes slow the connection down though because the connection travels all over the world before arriving at its destination, which is what an Onion is.


    Come to think of it (none / 0) (#22)
    by 1980Ford on Sat Apr 26, 2008 at 12:05:01 PM EST
    The Vidalia bundle includes the TorButton nowadays, so skip that step.

    If already using FireFox, this would take about 5 minutes.

    Surely there are some Stasi higher ups available (none / 0) (#23)
    by jawbone on Sat Apr 26, 2008 at 12:15:38 PM EST
    for the NSA and FBI to recruit to advise them on the thorough and complete privacy intrusions.

    Maybe Issa has been getting advice from them.

    Sure seems like it.