Big Brother USA is watching

From the FBI’s push to pre-wiretap new technology, to the battle over online media and WikiLeaks, the US is getting dangerously closer 24/7 spying on its people.

As technology and communications advances, law enforcement falls behind – their solution; pre-emptive wire-tapping. Federal authorities are seeking legislative action to require all new technologies are designed in advance to give police forces access them. Police wiretaps and backdoors would have to be in place on any and all new piece of communications technology.

On top of that, the US Senate approved a bill to extend three main provisions of the Patriot Act set to expire. The legislation, expected to be signed by President Barack Obama soon, extends the primary provisions that allow the US government access to roving wiretaps, tracking foreigners alleged to have ties to militant groups, the accessing of business records and investigating of individuals who may seek to engage in terror plots as individuals.

Meanwhile anti-WikiLeaks legislation dubbed the SHIELD Act aimed at helping the government prosecute leakers was introduced in the US House. If passed, it would amend the US Espionage Act to include the publishing of classified information that bears the identity of a source or informant an act of espionage.

CNET correspondent Declan McCullagh explained the extended patriot act provisions were supposed to be temporary, but have gone on for over nine years. Some of the provisions have never been used, which means they may not even be necessary. He argued the public needs to know how, when and which provisions are being used.

When you have a partisan issue you lose some of the nuances,” he said.

When divided by politics, many do not look at the details. But, since the extension is not permanent, there is a chance it will be reviewed and not renewed again in the future.

The anti-WikiLeaks legislation opens new doors, and arguably violates the rights to speech and privacy of individual Americans who use online media or serve as third party members in digital media responsible for leaking information.

In addition, federal prosecutors are trying to convince the courts to give them access to private and personal twitter accounts that have communicated with the whistleblower website.

The interesting thing about WikiLeaks is that it raises both First Amendment free speech, free expression issues, but also the privacy issues that have come up, because you really can’t speak freely unless you have a reason to believe that you’re able to communicate privately and the government isn’t listening in,” McCullagh commented.

He explained that judge approved information can and is often turned over when it is relative, but this is different given the free speech issues and international reach; given the owners of at least one Twitter account is a member of the Icelandic parliament.

Similarly, proposals by the FBI have been introduces to make eavesdropping easier, further targeting established American freedoms. It is unclear if such legislation would pass, but McCullagh expect the FBI will seek it.