EFF Files PATRIOT Act FOIA Requests

Jeff Berg
WASHINGTON — The Electronic Frontier Foundation filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the FBI and several Department of Justice agencies on Friday, hoping to discover whether the USA PATRIOT Act is being used to monitor the reading habits of Internet users.

The group is concerned that a section of the PATRIOT Act that gave expanded Internet use of “pen-traps,” devices that monitor phone numbers dialed from specific lines without recording content, may be interpreted by the government to allow the monitoring of web addresses or URLs.

So far, the DOJ has only openly stated that the new definitions allow pen-traps to monitor email and IP addresses.

“The scope of the federal government’s legal authority and technical ability to conduct electronic surveillance has been a matter of great controversy in the wake of the USA PATRIOT Act,” wrote EFF attorney Kevin S. Bankston in the request. The DOJ has refused to answer the public’s very simple question: ‘Can the government see what I’m reading on the web without having to show probable cause?’ ”

According to the EFF, the use of pen-traps to record visited URLs would be virtually the same as recording the content contained on each page.

In order to ascertain how this provision is being used, the EFF is requesting all documents prepared or collected by the DOJ, the FBI or any U.S. Attorney’s Office in connection with the use of pen-trap devices to monitor electronic communications or Internet-based wire communications, such as voice-over-Internet-protocol.

The release of the information is very important, according to the EFF, because the PATRIOT Act expires at the end of 2005.

“Much of PATRIOT is coming up for review this year, but we can never have a full and informed debate of the issues when the DOJ won’t explain how it has been using these new surveillance powers,” Bankston said.