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FBI screwed up, spied on entire email network

One warrant for one address not quite good enough

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The FBI on Friday revealed that human error led to surveillance of an entire email network back in 2006, rather than the single email address approved by the secretive court which approves domestic wiretaps and other forms of e-surveillance.

Although the alleged mistake came to light in an Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) Freedom of Information Act (FIA) lawsuit, the internet service provider involved remains unpublished, due to the classified nature of the work involved.

Back doors were built into the nation's telecommunications infrastructure back in the mid-nineties which allow for almost immediate real-time surveillance of phone conversations - cellular or otherwise - emails, and other forms of electronic communications that pass through the networks of the telecommunications industry.

The ISP involved allegedly misinterpreted a warrant for one email address to be a warrant for - ahem - the entire network. This kind of mass negligence is really only the flip-side of a surveillance system that allows for almost immediate mass surveillance by the government and its cronies in the telecommunications industry.

This latest controversy comes as President Bush continues to demand that Congress provide retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies involved with illegal warrantless wiretapping of American citizens, and is sure to fan the flames of that ongoing debate. The simplistic fear-mongering that has characterized the political animus of the present administration is even less persuasive when measured against this level of incompetence - after all, what good does Orwellian spying do if those involved are too incompetent to get it right anyway?

One intelligence official shrugged it off. "It's inevitable that these things will happen. It's not weekly, but it's common." This is the most egregious case yet revealed of what is known as "overproduction" - spook-speak for when a third party, for some reason, gives more information than requested.

At least they got a warrant for this kerfuffle. The controversial warrantless wiretapping program, which has led to gridlock in Congress for the revised Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) - the administration has promised to veto it if retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies is not included, while simultaneously claiming that the act needs to be passed immediately in the interests of national security - has had its own suspect "glitches". No one really knows how many purely domestic communications were hoovered up by the National Security Agency under the warrantless wiretapping program, and we probably never will.

Cynics suspect retroactive immunity to be a preemptive strike, should other, more secret, surveillance programs see the light of day. The FISA court issued a rare rebuke to the FBI last year for submitting false affidavits in support of its warrant applications, and other violations of note include dragging out surveillance long past what has been approved or seeking information beyond what had been authorized. Inasmuch as the FISA court issues warrants retroactively - and, anyway, almost never denies an FBI surveillance request - one wonders how, or why, they continue to screw things up. ®

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