Washington, D.C., August 20, 1999 – The Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA) denounced a Justice Department plan to authorize secret searches and surveillance of private homes and offices. The draft legislation, revealed in today’s editions of The Washington Post, would allow Federal agents to obtain court authorization to break into private premises to obtain information needed to monitor private communications or collect data, or to alter computer equipment to enable such surveillance.
“Not since the Nixon Administration have we seen such a desire to debase the privacy of individuals and the Fourth Amendment,” said CCIA President and CEO Ed Black. “I am dumbfounded that an Administration that has experienced the overzealousness of the government’s investigative powers would sanction this attack on our civil liberties. This is one big step toward the ‘Surveillance Society.’”
The draft legislation, labeled the “Cyberspace Electronic Security Act,” would greatly expand the very narrow circumstances in which the government may exercise a search warrant and implement monitoring devices without the knowledge of the subject of the warrant. Normally, notice and presentation of a warrant is a fundamental requirement of any search and seizure. In extremely limited circumstances, such as cases involving foreign espionage, courts have permitted “black bag jobs,” which give Federal agents the authority to enter private homes and businesses secretly and collect information and plant bugs. The Justice Department legislation would expand this authority to any investigation in which the government cannot obtain plaintext versions of encryption data or communications.
“I would be as worried as I am outraged by this proposal, if I were not certain that it will meet universal condemnation by the public and their representatives in Congress,” said Black. “Even if Congress were to pass such a law, I am fairly confident that the courts would find it irreconcilable with our Fourth Amendment rights. What does concern me is that the Justice Department would concoct such an abomination.”
The Justice Department’s draft legislation was forwarded to the Speaker of the House and will be introduced by request of the Administration if they are able to find a sponsor. CCIA will urge senior White House officials to review and repudiate the legislation.