The Justice Department is toying with the definitions of "legal," according to the folks over at CNET, which say the Electronic Privacy Information Center provided them with documents detailing a bypass of the Wiretap Act. Says the report, the Justice Department has sent out letters to a variety of ISPs absolving them of repercussions for intercepting Internet communications.
The letters were sent in secret to a variety of providers, among them being AT&T, giving the ISPs permission to interception communications that go through their network, a violation of the Wiretap Act. According to the documents, those who moved ahead with intercepting communications have been provided with legal immunity. These are called 2511 letters, and the exact amount that was sent out is not known.
Both the Defense Department and the National Security Agency participated in this event, with CNET reporting that some of the documents it received showing discussions by the NSA's director Keith Alexander. Said the Electronic Privacy Information Center's executive director Marc Rotenberg, "The Justice Department is helping private companies evade federal wiretap laws. Alarm bells should be going off."
Originally, this program was used to keep an eye on defense contractors, monitoring their Internet links. The Obama Administration has expanded the program so that it now involves "all critical intrastructure sectors," which are said to include finance, healthcare, and energy. This change will go in effect on June 12. While the Department of Justice and NSA turned down requests for comments, Homeland Security responded with a statement that it is "committed to supporting the public's privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties."