Privacy Law

Will ISPs Have to Tell the FBI if a Suspected Terrorist Googles or Friends You?


Can the government obtain a terrorism suspect’s Internet browser history without a court order?

That’s a possibility under a bid by the Obama administration to make it easer for the FBI to obtain Internet data in terrorism probes, the Washington Post reports. Currently, the FBI can issue so-called national security letters without a judge’s approval requiring telecommunications companies to turn over billing and other records about their customers. But some telecoms have resisted requests for Internet data, saying the law does not permit it.

The administration hopes to clear up any confusion by adding the words “electronic communication transactional records” to a list of items that the FBI may demand without a warrant, the Post says. Government lawyers say the change would allow the FBI to obtain a list of those who receive a terrorism suspect’s e-mail, the times the e-mail was sent and received, and possibly the suspect’s browser history, the story says. The e-mail content would not have to be turned over, however.

Marc Zwillinger, a lawyer for Internet companies, told the Post that the change would raise additional questions. An example, he said, is a Facebook friend request. “Is that something they would sweep in under an NSL?” he asked. “They certainly aren’t getting that now.”

Privacy and civil liberties lawyers are criticizing the proposed amendment as an example of the administration’s mixed record of civil liberties in the area of national security. The American Civil Liberties Union has outlined its concerns about the president’s civil liberties record in a new report, according to a press release.

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