Monday, August 6, 2007

New Electronic Surveillance Law

Not much in the local newspapers on this, but President Bush signed a new expanded wiretapping law Sunday that would seem to have implications for many Hawaii residents who make international telephone calls or send international emails. Read the NYT story. The new law allows the National Security Agency to listen to Americans calling overseas, without a warrant. The White House spokesman said that the intent is not to focus on Americans, but to give the government greater "flexibility in focusing on foreign suspects overseas." In a nutshell, the new law provides a legal framework for the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on foreign communications, placing the surveillance outside the jurisdiction of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978.

When the topic exploded in 2006 as a privacy issue, telecommunications companies balked at cooperating with the federal government, and Hawaiian Telcom indicated that they had not been contacted by the NSA to participate in the program. Now, it appears that the companies can be ordered to cooperate by the attorney general or the director of national intelligence (although it also appears likely that this section of the law will be challenged in court.)

The Hawaii legislature passed SB965 in 2006 to update the state's electronic surveillance law, and several resolutions were introduced (but went nowhere) calling for an investigation into warrantless wiretapping. Hawaii has a large population with family and business contacts overseas. They should be made more aware of this new law.

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