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search warrants for online data

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  • Thinks 2 Much (LindaP)
    ... Long, but interesting and informative article: The CSS Internet News (tm) is a daily e-mail publication that has been providing up to date information to
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 1, 2000
      Long, but interesting and informative article:
      The CSS Internet News (tm) is a daily e-mail publication that
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      The following is an excerpt from the CSS Internet News. If you are
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      Search warrants for online data soar (US)
      By Will Rodger, USATODAY.com
      The number of search warrants seeking citizens' online data has
      soared during the past several years, a USATODAY.com study shows. 
      The findings, based on an examination of search warrants served on
      the nation's largest Internet service provider, America Online, came
      as a surprise to federal lawmakers and civil libertarians and are
      prompting calls for legal reforms.
      The warrants, served by state and local investigators from across
      the nation, were aimed at discovering the identity and activities of
      AOL subscribers. In 1997, AOL was served with 33 search warrants,
      according to court logs in Loudoun County, Va., where AOL is based.
      That number jumped to 167 in 1998 and 301 in 1999 — an increase of
      more than 800% since 1997.
      This year, state and local investigators had served 191 warrants on
      AOL through July 17, the logs show.
      Armey: Wants to know more about cops' online searches.
      Congressional leaders informed of USATODAY.com's findings said they
      will examine legal standards applied to Internet investigations. At
      a minimum, House Majority Leader Richard Armey, R-Texas, said police
      need to tell Congress when, why and how they perform electronic
      Critics are concerned because they believe that electronic
      surveillance of all types is a highly powerful tool that, if not
      tightly controlled, violates rules against unreasonable police
      "We do have reports on wiretaps," Armey said. "Why shouldn't people
      have a right to know what the government is doing to access personal
      correspondence in any media?"
      House criticizes Carnivore
      Armey's displeasure echoes the criticism members of a House
      subcommittee expressed this week over the FBI's new "Carnivore"
      Internet wiretapping device. Members say the FBI may be intercepting
      too much e-mail when it tries to nab messages still in transit from
      one Net user to another.
      But privacy advocates say that while official Washington occupies
      itself with the legality of Carnivore's real-time e-mail
      interception, it is ignoring another, possibly more important point.
      The e-mail stored in online accounts after messages have been
      delivered has only a fraction of the protections afforded an ordinary
      telephone call or e-mail still in transit.
      Searches for online data typically involve cases ranging from
      harassment and child pornography to violent crime and fraud.
      As Congress moves to deal with controversies over online
      communications, the White House is already rushing to address the
      White House chief of staff John Podesta addressed government
      searches in a speech July 17 at the National Press Club. He pledged
      then that the White House would move soon to protect electronic data.
      "Data transmitted over networks is not afforded the full privacy
      protection we give to traditional phone calls," he said.
      "Considering the extent to which our electronic correspondence
      contains our most sensitive thoughts and information, shouldn't they
      count, as Louis Brandeis foreshadowed more than 70 years ago, as the
      papers and effects mentioned in the Fourth Amendment?
      FBI officials say there is little reason for concern, contending
      that stored e-mail and other online records are not as confidential
      as a personal telephone call.
      "It is hard to understand why information in Internet accounts is
      any more sacrosanct than any other electronic document," FBI
      Assistant General Counsel Thomas Gregory Motta said. 
      So far, Motta said, the law has treated stored records like e-mail
      the same way it treats other documents like letters and diaries,
      which can be seized from a home with a simple search warrant. "What
      about records of my transactions at a bank?" he asked. "I can get
      that with a subpoena from a grand jury."
      Andrew Grosso, a Washington-based attorney who specializes in
      computer law, said police inquiries at AOL probably are being
      repeated at other Internet service providers (ISPs) and Web mail
      providers throughout the USA. 
      "All ISPs have experienced a significant increase in the number of
      search warrants and subpoenas," he said.
      Police goals vary
      What authorities are looking for can vary by case. In some
      instances, the logs show, police ask for and get limited information
      from AOL, such as subscriber identity, billing data and payment
      Other times police request all such information, plus e-mail; the
      online "handles" and names of people cataloged in members' "buddy
      lists"; all files attached to e-mail; and all other information
      contained about the subscriber in the America Online databases.
      To comply with the more extensive order, experts say, AOL must be
      handing over a great deal.
      "They can get all information," said Mark Rasch, a former federal
      prosecutor and vice president for cyber law at Global Integrity in
      suburban Washington, D.C. "They can get your credit card data and
      everything you've filed with them. They can get a record of what
      times you dialed in, where you dialed in from, how long you were
      online, what activities you were engaged in, what Web sites you
      visited, what chat sessions you were in and what you said there."
      "Why shouldn't people have a right to know what the government is
      doing to access personal correspondence in any media?"
      -- House Majority Leader Richard Armey, R-Texas.
      Internet service companies are privy to everything their members do
      online. But ISPs vary greatly in their record retention policies,
      said Mark Rorabaugh, president of Internet provider Two Radical
      Technologies Inc. Some ISPs may keep e-mail for two years or more.
      Others may throw the messages away after a few weeks. And that will
      affect authorities' ability to get what they want in criminal
      For instance, Rorabaugh said, companies that host Web sites often
      keep records of the numeric Internet addresses that hit their sites
      for years, yet only the visitor's ISP can disclose which subscriber
      is behind that number. And in many cases, Rorabaugh said, that
      information may never be recorded.
      Chat sessions, likewise, are usually discarded as quickly as they
      are generated. But news reports have said AOL has kept chat sessions
      for days after the chats are over.
      "AOL is the only company I've heard of that supposedly keeps chat,"
      Rorabaugh said.
      America Online spokesman Nicholas Graham said the company had no
      comment on law enforcement's growing interest in subscriber records.
      Court Chief Deputy Clerk Mari Hommel said there was no guarantee the
      logs recorded every single search warrant served on AOL. Still, she
      said, clerks note AOL warrants as a matter of "customary practice"
      in order to track their progress once they are returned to the
      Warrant logs 'extremely accurate'
      Data contained in Loudoun County search-warrant logs are "extremely
      accurate," said Ron Horak, the county investigator whose sole job is
      to help state and local police from around the country serve
      warrants for AOL user records.
      "I'm estimating the process is climbing at about 100-150 warrants
      per year," Horak said.
      So what do the police want from AOL?
      A random sample of 14 such warrants over the last 18 months showed
      that 10 asked for all data the service had on targeted subscribers.
      In every case, legal experts say, the law requires that investigators
      show that the information sought relates to an investigation. Still,
      they say, the standard falls far short of legal protections required
      to obtain conventional wiretaps.
      As with all warrants, in these cases police had to show "probable
      cause" that a crime had been committed. But their job would have
      been a lot harder if they had to clear the same hurdles as agents who
      seek wiretaps.
      For the FBI to get permission to tap a phone or live e-mail
      transmission, for instance, agents must first conclude that no other
      technique can get the information they need without ruining the
      Once they are sure a wiretap is the only way to get what they want,
      agents must then run the proposal past their legal staff. From
      there, requests go to the bureau's Washington office, where the
      bureau's Office of General Counsel examines the legality of the
      request. If the General Counsel's office approves the request, it
      passes it to the Justice Department, where law clerks examine the
      request before passing it on to senior management. The attorney
      general or one of the top dozen or so officials there must sign the
      Only then can it go to a judge, who may approve the order for no
      more than 30 days at a stretch. Many years judges approve all of the
      1,000 or more requests they receive.
      Armey: Burden of proof should be higher
      Though Armey stopped short of saying all Internet investigations
      should face the same hurdles, he did say police must face a higher
      burden of proof than they do now when they want access to Internet
      data. "It seems to me someone is being reckless in issuing broad
      reaching warrants under (current) standards," he said.
      Justice Department spokeswoman Chris Watney said there are no
      statistics on how often federal officers get Internet users' data
      for crime investigations because there are no reporting requirements
      for the online activity.
      Privacy advocates say they will press the federal government to
      bring rules for electronic searches closer to the ones used for
      "It is clear the law is not adequate to protect people's privacy,"
      said David Banisar, senior fellow at the Electronic Privacy
      Information Center. "There does need to be changes in the law so a
      person's e-mail is given the same legal protection as their phone
      calls. It is also clear there needs to be oversight of this because
      what has gone on so far has not been made public."
      The lack of record-keeping "is a huge oversight failure," said James
      Dempsey, senior staff counsel to the Center for Democracy and
      Technology, a Washington, DC, public interest group that gets most
      of its funding from high-tech companies. "There's no one even in the
      Justice Department who knows what the scope of monitoring of
      electronic communications is. That's a serious problem in and of
      Indeed, as more Americans choose to keep their calendars, bank
      accounts, diaries and more online, they become more susceptible to
      police search than ever before, Dempsey said.
      No legal experts contacted for this article could name a case in
      which data other than e-mail or chat sessions had been seized in a
      criminal prosecution. Still, they said, it is only a matter of time
      before such a case surfaces.
      "The scary thing is so much of your life is going to be accessible
      on the Internet, not just e-mail," Global Integrity's Rasch said.
      "What sites I logged into, what I bought on those sites, my calendar,
      all those things I typed in — there's a trail."
      Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said Congress needs to weigh those
      "The law has not caught up with the fact that we are storing more
      and more personal information not on our PCs but on network-based
      files," he said. "That means it gets exponentially easier to snoop on
      our finances and schedules and doctor's appointments, not to mention
      the messages we send and the products we buy and the sites we visit.
      We need clear rules of the road on privacy to be followed by the
      government and also by commercial and other private users of the
      The FBI's Motta conceded that people store more data than ever on
      the Internet. Even so, he said, that growth will harm police if they
      must face higher obstacles to seizing it than they would in other
      "Say I'm a drug dealer," he said. "Why would I keep my information
      at home when I can keep it on (another site)?"
      Also in this issue:
      - Britain passes 'Big Brother' bill
          LONDON - Big Brother is alive and well in the United Kingdom — at
          least according to critics of wide-sweeping legislation passed in
          the British House of Commons that will allow the police to intercept
          private e-mails.
      - Key nodes make Internet vulnerable to cyber-terrorism: researchers
          LONDON - Cyber-terrorists could take advantage of key nodes that
          allow information to travel on the Internet, researchers said
      - Concern growing over Quebec woman's pedophile site (Canada)
          JONQUIERE, QUEBEC - A Quebec woman who runs a French Web site that
          posts pictures of pedophiles on the Internet wants to expand the
          service across Canada and around the world.
      - Napster seeking to block order shutting down online music service (US)
          The online music swapping service Napster plans to file an appeal in
          a federal appeals court Thursday, seeking to block a district
          judge's order that would essentially shut Napster down.
      - Reno Describes FBI Internet-Wiretap System Review (US)
          U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno described on Thursday a two-step
          process to review a new FBI Internet-wiretap system called Carnivore
          that has raised privacy concerns. With lawmakers and privacy
          advocates concerned the system allows for widespread surveillance of
          e-mails, Reno said the first step will be for a group of academic
          experts to conduct a detailed review of the computer program's source
      - Insiders say order won't stop swaps (US)
          Napster's co-founder reacts to a judge's order to restrict online
          trading of copyrighted music, saying other technologies could do far
          more harm to the recording industry.
      - Iraq's first Internet café opens up the world
          Iraq has seen its first ever Internet café open. Set up by the
          enterprising Ba'athist government - which is headed of course by the
          West's best friend and man of the people Saddam Hussein - the café
          is another great example of how the Internet can bring us all
          together, make us more tolerant of other people's views and cultures.
          Yah right.
      - ABC News: Ecommerce Causes Tax Shortfall in US
          Between USD300 million and USD3.8 billion of potential tax revenue
          will be lost by authorities in the US this year as more and more
          consumers shop on the Internet. 
      - Low-income Canadians surf Web as often as rich 
          But tastes diverge between groups, 2000 report says 
          Canadian Web surfers are just as likely to be low-income as
          high-income, according to the latest Internet ratings report. 
      - Child Sexual Predators Getting Caught on Web (US)
          In person, Ken Hansen would not have a prayer of successfully
          impersonating a 12-year-old girl. 
      - Network Solutions inches toward domain auctions 
          Network Solutions has taken the first step toward creating a domain
          name auction on its Web site.
      - Search warrants for online data soar (US)
          The number of search warrants seeking citizens' online data has
          soared during the past several years, a USATODAY.com study shows. 
      - Traffic Doesn't Necessarily Equal Revenue
          Dot-com earnings have been a hot topic recently. Wall Street is
          demanding that dot-coms find ways to achieve profitability quicker. 
      - Napster Ruling Alters Business (US)
          If a federal court order that Napster Inc. shut down its
          music-swapping service kills the company, it will have quite an
      - New Lists and Journals
          * ADD: Arab Hackz, A place for freedom of speech and freedom of the
          mind that allowed knowledge to pass through it unfiltered. The
          ethical side of the underground, the side that penetrated
          systems not to destroy, but to create knowledge in the minds
          of everyone who viewed its contents. A place where hackers,
          phreaks, crackers, warez and the like could go to expand their
          minds or just hang out and interact with others like them.
          * ADD: wireless-internet, Focuses on the implications of wireless
          technology for Web developers. WML and creating content for wireless
          * ADD: webgraphics, Discussion of Web graphics - Compression, the
          Web-safe palette, PNG, watermarks.
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