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Government seeks more access to consumer data

Vermont Guardian | June 2, 2005

NEW YORK — As Congress debates renewal of the USA PATRIOT Act and whether to expand the FBI's power to seek records without the approval of a judge or grand jury, the Bush administration has asked the 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in New York to restore its ability to compel Internet service providers to turn over information about their customers or subscribers.

FedEx, American Online and Wal-Mart already provide the government with customer information, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Last year, in response to a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and an Internet access firm that received a national security letter from the FBI demanding records, a U.S. District judge blocked the government from conducting secret searches of communications records. Judge Victor Marrero of New York said the law that authorized the request wrongly barred legal challenges and imposed a gag order on affected businesses.

According to reports published by Newsday and The Los Angeles Times, the administration is arguing that the judge was off the mark because the company did mount a legal challenge to the demand for records. Attorney Jameel Jaffer responded that the ACLU and the firm filed the lawsuit precisely because the law doesn't contain a provision allowing a challenge of the FBI's demand for documents.

Less concerned about government use of its information, Fedex already makes the international portion of its databases, including credit card details, available to government officials. It is currently setting up a system to send reports of suspicious activities directly to the Department of Homeland Security via a special computer link.

America Online has a dedicated hotline to help police officers seeking subscriber information, and also provides advice about how to word subpoenas. Wal-Mart, which has a sophisticated security system, has been helping U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents figure out how to better track international shipping, Homeland Security officials report.


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