A FISA scenario–doing it for the LULZ

By now, everyone knows that Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s email got hacked. And why?  Some anonymous comments on various blogs said they “did it for the lulz“. That is, for amusement.

And now the McCain campaign has issued a statement:

This is a shocking invasion of the Governor’s privacy and a violation of law. The matter has been turned over to the appropriate authorities and we hope that anyone in possession of these emails will destroy them.

Well, that’s a switch.  Palin has prided herself on transparent government.  Now she MINDS if someone reads her Email?  If she doesn’t have anything to hide, why does she care?

But I agree. It’s a violation of privacy and it’s Not A Good Thing. Sarah Palin’s email should be private unless someone can show a good reason to read it and produce a search warrant.

The same should be true for EVERY citizen of the United States.  But it isn’t.

The FISA Amendments act of 2008 allows the U.S. government to hack your computer and your email–also your house, your car, your office–without a warrant.

Here’s how it works:

  • Within 7 days of the hack, they are supposed to apply for a certificate that says they will tell a FISA court they are hacking you.  They don’t have to say who or where they are hacking. They don’t have to give a reason.  They can be doing it just for the LULZ. They are allowed to change around the date on the certificate.
  • Then the FISA court has 30 days to determine whether it’s approved. FISA courts approve 99.9% of the certificates.  Surprise, surprise, surprise.
  • In the remote chance that the FISA court does not approve it, the government can appeal.  Then the government can continue to hack your email for another 60 days until the FISA court makes a decision. So that means the government can hack your computer and your email without a warrant (they are waiting for a “certificate” to do it–remember?) for 97 days, right?

Nope. Because of this loophole:

  • Time limits for court decisions can be extended if it’s in the interest of security.

And if the court tells them they can’t hack your email, then what? Like in McCain’s press statement about the hacking of Palin’s email,  “anyone in possession of these emails will destroy them”? No, I’m afraid not.  The government can keep all the information it obtained illegally.

But what about the 4th amendment, you may ask. Doesn’t the bill of rights make it illegal for telecommunications companies to participate in that?  How does the government get away with that, you may ask.  Easy.  AT&T. Verizon, and Sprint just spent $53.6 million on lobbying and campaign contirbutons.

A politicians email got hacked and everyone is making indignant statements. But can you imagine an ordinary American’s email getting hacked by the government and a politician coming out with a statement like this?:

“This is a shocking invasion of  Americans’ privacy and a violation of the constitution. The FISA Amendments Act of 2008 has been turned over to the Congress of the United States for repeal and we hope that any government agency in possession of these citizens’ emails will destroy them.”

Here’s what will probably happen instead.  They will find one individual to take the rap for the Palin incident.  As long as that person has an extra $53.6 million laying around to lobby the government and contribute to politician’s campaigns, they’re not going to have any problems. But I hope that whatever they do to that individual, they also do to the government, the FISA courts, and the telecommunications industry. Vigilante actions by governments are just as bad as vigilante actions by individuals, maybe worse.

The year before I entered a university, they had a rule about privacy.  If a female student had a male visitor, the door had to be open.   One night some students went over to the college president’s little on-campus mansion and removed the front door.  Took it right off. The guy woke up in the morning and his residence was wide open.  “We wanted to make a point about how it felt not to have privacy”, said one of the students. The point was taken and the rule revoked.

Let’s hope that Sarah Palin–and all Americans–get their computer security back soon.

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