There is a concern that the Internet could be used to commit crimes and that advanced encryption could disguise such activity. However, we do not provide the government with phone jacks outside our homes for unlimited wiretaps. Why, then, should we grant government the Orwellian capability to listen at will and in real time to our communications across the Web?
The administration’s interest in all e-mail is a wholly unhealthy precedent, especially given this administration’s track record on FBI files and IRS snooping. Every medium by which people communicate can be subject to exploitation by those with illegal intentions. Nevertheless, this is no reason to hand Big Brother the keys to unlock our e-mail diaries, open our ATM records, read our medical records, or translate our international communications.
That was Senator John Ashcroft writing in 1997. In 2002, “[Expanded wiretap powers are] a giant step forward,” Attorney General John Ashcroft said. “This revolutionizes our ability to investigate terrorists and prosecute terrorist acts.” In the Name of Security. Perhaps “Total Information Awareness” must only be a bad thing when you don’t have the information.