Peeping Feds

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Another computer-based focal point is the newly expanded scope of subpoenas for electronic communications. A service provider must now give the government duration of log-on, addresses visited and methods of payment for any commercial transactions. This again raises some privacy issues.

The PATRIOT Act also brings back the FBI's notorious Carnivore program, renamed the DCS-1000. In the new law, the FBI is given greater power in applying the program to search through people's Web surfing with little approval from a judge. Some think that the government will now be able to look at e-mail headers without a court order, capture content while looking for ISP addresses, and even in some cases infiltrating Web sites, which, under the new law, is a crime if the suspect does it.

Not everyone feels that these new powers threaten the privacy of the average citizen. Larry Sams, the special agent supervisor of technological services for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) says, "No one's tramping on rights, I can assure you. The Constitution is still there. The standards that law enforcement goes by, that's all still there."

The FDLE's computer division spends most of its time tracking online fraud and pedophiles. Hardly glamorous work, but there's more than enough to go around. Sams sees a difference between criminal investigations and the current war on terrorism. "Crime and terrorism are two different animals. A matter of national security is not the same as a pedophile. Crime didn't stop when terrorism came to the forefront. We still have to deal with it and our abilities to use surveillance, whether traditional or electronic, are still covered under warrants."

In fact, the new law really doesn't specify provisions for criminal investigations, like the Scarfo case, but as the lines between terrorist organizations and criminal ones blur, it may become necessary to use the PATRIOT Act against groups that are linked to both terrorist cells and international criminal groups. Recent intelligence from the Middle East reported that members of Al-Qaida were buying arms and nuclear materials from Russian organized crime figures. Other terrorist groups like the KLA (Kosovo Liberation Army) have been implicated in traditional criminal activities like extortion, human smuggling and drug trafficking.

One set of checks and balances that was added to the final draft of the US PATRIOT Act was a sunset provision. The provision opens a clause in which the current form of the bill will expire in four years. This gives Congress the power to oversee the FBI's use of the law and make changes before reauthorization. Ironically, while the Bush White House fought to remove the provision, it was the House Republicans who kept it in the final draft.

David Sobel contends that the sunset provision, "really doesn't go far enough. For instance, the provision that uses Carnivore is not affected by sunset provision. In fact, only a limited number of provisions will sunset. While it is better than nothing, it really won't have a major effect."

A number of critics question whether new anti-terrorism laws were even needed, asserting that existing laws on the book were more than adequate to address the security concerns. Mike Phenegar outlined three criteria that the ACLU is using to assess the new laws. The first is to decide whether the law would have been effective if it were in place. Would all the new surveillance powers have stopped the Sept. 11 hijackers? The second would be to mitigate the collateral damage. If a suspected terrorist were the subject of a roving wiretap, then anyone else who uses the phones that the terrorist might happen to use would also be tapped. Finally the ACLU wants the laws implemented in a non-discriminatory manner, which could prove difficult in these politically and culturally charged times.

In light of the recent redirection of FBI manpower to the war on terrorism, will the FBI let up in their pursuit of organized crime figures like Scarfo? "The feds are maxed out now with the terrorist stuff, but they like O.C. (organized crime) cases. The mob means press coverage. The FBI and the Justice Department will be back focusing on mob stuff as usual, if they aren't already," says Lenehan.

Anastasia had his own take on the new anti-terrorism law. "One of the interesting things to watch is whether the new, less restrictive wiretap and surveillance laws that have been put in place to counter terrorism end up being employed in traditional mob cases."

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