Feeds

Senator calls for Patriot Act scale-back

Terms of surveillance

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

A proposal in the US Senate would scale back a federal surveillance law that permits law enforcement agencies to electronically monitor a computer trespasser without a warrant with the consent of the victim.

Under a provision of the 2001 USA Patriot Act intended to give system owners the ability to work with officials to combat intruders, the FBI and other agencies can surveil the communications of an electronic trespasser to, from or through a computer, provided the "owner or operator of the protected computer authorizes the interception."

But in addition to intruders, the provision - called Section 217 - leaves legitimate users of public computers at libraries, Internet cafes, business lounges and hotels vulnerable to warrantless surveillance, based only on a suspicion that the user is engaged in some kind of unauthorized activity, argues senator Russ Feingold (D-Wisconsin), who introduced the Computer Trespass Clarification Act earlier this month.

"The computer owner authorizes the surveillance, and the FBI carries it out," said Feingold, in introducing the bill. "There is no warrant, no court proceeding, no opportunity even for the subject of the surveillance to challenge the assertion of the computer owner that some unauthorized use of the computer has occurred."

Section 217 protects users who have a contract with the computer's owner granting them access; Feingold's bill would expand that protection to users who have any authorized access to the computer, even without a contract.

The proposal would also narrow the range of cases qualifying for warrantless law enforcement surveillance to those in which the computer's owner or operator "is attempting to respond to communications activity that threatens the integrity or operation of such computer and requests assistance to protect rights and property of the owner or operator."

Additionally, it would permit officials to conduct the surveillance for only 96 hours before they'd have to go to court and get a warrant, and it would require the Justice Department to report annually to Congress on its use of the provision.

"I strongly supported the goal of giving computer system owners the ability to call in law enforcement to help defend themselves against hacking," said Feingold. "Unfortunately, the drafters of the provision made it much broader than necessary."

Enacted in response to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the 132-page USA Patriot Act passed in the Senate 98 to 1, with Feingold casting the only dissenting vote. It passed in the House 356 to 66.

Section 217 is among the provisions set to expire, or "sunset," in December, 2005, unless it's renewed by Congress.

In a July report arguing the importance of USA Patriot, attorney general John Ashcroft wrote that Section 217 merely "places cyber-intruders on the same footing as physical intruders."

"Hacking victims can seek law-enforcement assistance to combat hackers just as burglary victims can invite police officers into their homes to catch burglars," wrote Ashcroft.

Copyright © 2004, SecurityFocus logo

Related stories

Footing the Big Brother webtap bill
Senators propose Patriot Act limitations
FBI bypasses First Amendment to nail a hacker

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

More from The Register

next story
NASTY SSL 3.0 vuln to be revealed soon – sources (Update: It's POODLE)
So nasty no one's even whispering until patch is out
Russian hackers exploit 'Sandworm' bug 'to spy on NATO, EU PCs'
Fix imminent from Microsoft for Vista, Server 2008, other stuff
US government fines Intel's Wind River over crypto exports
New emphasis on encryption as a weapon?
To Russia With Love: Snowden's pole-dancer girlfriend is living with him in Moscow
While the NSA is tapping your PC, he's tapping ... nevermind
Forget passwords, let's use SELFIES, says Obama's cyber tsar
Michael Daniel wants to kill passwords dead
Slap for SnapChat web app in SNAP mishap: '200,000' snaps sapped
This is what happens if you hand your username and password to a 3rd-party
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Win a year’s supply of chocolate
There is no techie angle to this competition so we're not going to pretend there is, but everyone loves chocolate so who cares.
Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.