In a major set back for the US Government’s surveillance laws, a federal judge has ruled that a key portion of the Patriot act is unconstitutional and violates the right to free speech. A part of the Patriot act was to allow the FBI to request information like e-mail correspondence, a list of web sites visited and queries submitted to search engines. The information was to be obtained via national security letters, which do not require a court order.
On receiving such a letter, the Internet service provider had to provide the requested information and could have a gag order imposed on them from disclosing that such a request was received. Having such an order makes it difficult to seek legal advice without the fear of punishment. The action was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, whose National Security Project director Jameel Jaffer commented,
“Courts have a constitutionally mandated role to play when national security policies infringe on First Amendment rights, a statute that allows the FBI to silence people without meaningful judicial oversight is unconstitutional.”
Internet privacy is a contentious topic. A user has the expectation that any legal online activities that they participate in will not be monitored. They do not want their personal details misused, and want to have the option of choosing who can watch and interact with them. The right to privacy is something that will always be challenged while the Government maintains its right to know what its citizens are doing.
Fortunately, there are still options available to those who wish to maintain their privacy while participating in legal activities on the Internet. By using services like proxify and limiting the amount of personal information they provide to sites, internet users will limit how much information can be collected. Those who misuse the Internet and its application for illegal gain should expect such activities to be monitored.
Internet users are able to monitor to a certain extent their own and other peoples Internet usage with traffic monitoring services and by joining social networking sites. The difference is that they have a choice, checking to see what a friend is doing via a social networking site is different to having someone else look at your online banking details.
Both sides of the privacy debate will have mixed views on the ruling, with some thinking it is too much, and others not enough. While the US Government could secretly monitor an individual’s online activities, for the time being they will need a court order to do so. This will help protect the right to privacy while not inhibiting Government actions to stop misuse of the Internet.