(01/11/2006)
By Bob Weaver

Americans want to be protected from being "annoyed" and from terrorists that are attacking us, and we certainly all of us want to be "patriots."

Many Americans agree with President George Bush that he should have the executive power to override constitutional law and order wiretaps without due process, no need for search warrants. After all, it is war, and he is looking out for America.

Certainly, with all the problems on the Internet, we need the Internet controlled better, and its certainly government's job to help us out, protect us, control things and keep us from being annoyed.

Did you know that annoying someone on the Internet is now a federal crime.

Should bloggers beware?

Should e-mailers beware?

Well, you decide.

President George Bush just signed into law a prohibition on posting annoying Web messages or sending annoying e-mail messages without disclosing your true identity.

Sounds good. Who wants to be annoyed.

It's OK to be annoying as long as you do it under your real name.

The measure was buried in a bill called Violence Against Women and the Department of Justice Reauthorization Act. Criminal penalties include stiff fines and two years in prison.

The use of the word 'annoy' in the bill is problematic, considering what's annoying to one person may not be annoying to someone else.

The bill says:

"Whoever...utilizes any device or software that can be used to originate telecommunications or other types of communications that are transmitted, in whole or in part, by the Internet...without disclosing his identity and with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten, or harass any person...who receives the communications...shall be fined under title 18 or imprisoned not more than two years, or both."

It is called "Preventing Cyberstalking." It rewrites existing telephone harassment laws to prohibit anyone from using the Internet "without disclosing his identity and with intent to annoy."

The US Senate unanimously approved it.

Those who disagree with the law are asking, "Should merely annoying someone be illegal? "

Some groups say there are perfectly legitimate reasons to set up a web site or write something incendiary without telling everyone exactly who you are.

They give examples: "A woman fired by a manager who demanded sexual favors wants to blog about it without divulging her full name. An aspiring pundit hopes to set up a radical web site or blog, or a frustrated citizen wants to send e-mail describing corruption in local government without worrying about reprisals."

Someone is probably going to be annoyed if those three examples are utilized, opponents say.

Clinton Fein, a San Francisco resident who runs the Annoy.com site, says a feature permitting visitors to send obnoxious and profane postcards through e-mail could be imperiled.

"Who decides what's annoying? That's the ultimate question," Fein said. He added: "If you send an annoying message via the United States Post Office, do you have to reveal your identity?"

Fein said it is the continued erosion of First Amendment rights.

Attorney Susan Howley of the National Center for the Victims of Crime, who helped shape the amendment added to the existing VAWA, said, "It's another tool to stop someone's harassing behavior."

"It only extends the current telephone harassment laws to the Internet. It extends the same protections to new forms of communications."

BIG BROTHER GETTING BIG EYES AND EARS - Coming To A Computer Near You November, 2005

Beyond The Patriot Act, New Rules
By Bob Weaver/Wire Services

Could it be citizens of the US might need some protection from the government, as much as terrorism.

The scratching away of personal rights have brought little outcry from the American people, whose strong beliefs as patriots ignore some of the conditions of the "Patriot Act," initiated to protect citizens from terrorism.

While all Americans would agree that measures must be taken to stop terrorism, the "Patriot Act" seems like Orwells "Newspeak" from his novel "1984," what he saw happening in the use of English in his own time, deceit for political purposes, not alone the eroding of personal freedom.

Orwell said we will live in a world where fear "protects" freedom - war is peace, freedom is slavery and ignorance is strength.

Now, comes the Communications Assistance Act for Law Enforcement, only to be used against the bad guys.

The media has barely reported that clock is ticking for broadband and Net-phone providers to make it easier for law enforcement to conduct surveillance on users of their networks.

According to a final order issued by the Federal Communications Commission in late September, all broadband Internet service providers and many Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, companies have 18 months, until spring 2007, to ensure their systems have back doors that allow police to eavesdrop on their customers' communications for investigative purposes.

The 59-page order followed years of pressure from the FBI, the Justice Department and the Drug Enforcement Administration.

It broadens the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), an 11-year-old wiretapping law that currently applies only to "telecommunications carriers."

Verizon executive Douglas Sullivan said that his company supports the government's "legal conclusions" about expanding the reach of CALEA and has been working with vendors over the past few years to build compliant equipment.

The FCC has justified the expansion on the basis of terrorism and Homeland Security. Bush administration officials have warned, for example, of the perils of VoIP services in rogue hands.

It remains unclear exactly what classes of providers within those broad categories must do to reach compliance.

The FCC said in its original order that it reached "no conclusions" about whether universities, research institutions, and small or rural broadband providers should be subject the requirements.

The comment period had expired.

C&W Enterprises, a small broadband provider in rural Western Texas, wrote, "it is difficult to assess what the costs would be for our company or what type of exemption we would advocate without knowing what we will be required to do under the CALEA rules."

An FCC representative downplayed the order, acknowledging that the existing order does not set specific requirements. Instead, it is designed to "get the industry thinking" about making the changes "so they can begin to incorporate CALEA compliance," he said.

The cable broadband industry, which counted about 1.2 million VoIP customers and 23.5 million Internet subscribers as of the second quarter of this year, is "working with the FBI on a CALEA solution for cable broadband service," said Brian Dietz, spokesman for the National Cable and Television Association.

Verizon executive Sullivan said that several unanswered questions remained, including how to recover costs associated with the changes and how enforcement will operate. "We understand that the commission intends to address these issues in a follow-up order we hope will be issued very soon."

There could be legal challenges to the new rules.

The American Council on Education, which has said universities and research institutions deserve to be exempted from the regulations because the changes required are too expensive and would prompt inevitable tuition hikes.

A coalition of groups, including the Center for Democracy and Technology and the VoIP company Pulver.com, issued their own appeal.

They say that Congress never intended for CALEA to apply to the Internet and that the FCC has stepped outside its bounds.

Under the sweeping legislation of the Patriot Act, the government can...

(1) SEARCH YOUR HOME AND NOT EVEN TELL YOU. The USA Patriot Act expands law enforcement's ability to conduct secret "sneak and peek" searches of your home. Investigators can enter your home or office, take pictures and seize items without informing you that a warrant was issued, for an indefinite period of time. (SECTION 213)

(2) COLLECT INFORMATION ABOUT WHAT BOOKS YOU READ, WHAT YOU STUDY, YOUR PURCHASES AND YOUR MEDICAL HISTORY. The USA Patriot Act gives law enforcement broad access to any types of records - medical, financial, gun, library, educational, sales, etc. - without probable cause of a crime. It also prohibits the holders of this information, like librarians, from disclosing that they have produced such records, under threat of imprisonment. The court orders are issued by a secret intelligence court in Washington and judges have little power to deny applications. (SECTION 215)

(3) SEIZE A WIDE VARIETY OF BUSINESS AND FINANCIAL RECORDS, and in certain instances access the membership lists of organizations that provide even very limited Internet services (message boards on your church website for instance) using "national security letters," or NSLs, which are issued at the sole discretion of the Justice Department. The Patriot Act expanded access to these NSLs, which also impose a blanket gag order on recipients and are not subject to judicial review. (SECTION 505)

(4) READ PARTS OF YOUR E-MAILS AND MONITOR WHAT YOU LOOK AT ON-LINE. The Patriot Act lets the government get records that could show the subject lines of your e-mails and details about your Web surfing habits (like your recent research on Google), all without probable cause. (SECTION 216)

Fortunately, there is some movement in Congress to look more critically at the Act, if such provisions really do protect the American people from terrorism.


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