Saturday, May 20, 2006

No data is safe, or, it's not just the phone companies

It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone: law enforcement officers have been using the Patriot Act and general angst about terrorism to demand data from a wide variety of businesses, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal (free access). Here are a few choice snippets:

"Banks, Internet-service providers and other companies that possess large amounts of data on their customers say that police and intelligence agencies have been increasingly coming to them looking for tidbits of information that could help them stop everything from money launderers to pedophiles and terrorists."

"Corporate counsel that used to see law-enforcement-related requests five times a year are now getting them sometimes dozens of times a day,' says Susan Hackett, a senior vice president and top attorney for the Association of Corporate Counsel, which represents the legal departments of leading U.S. companies."

"According to AOL executives, the most common requests in criminal cases relate to crimes against children, including abuse, abductions, and child pornography. Close behind are cases dealing with identity theft and other computer crimes. Sometimes the police requests are highly targeted and scrupulously legalistic, while other times they were seen by the company as little more than sloppy fishing expeditions. AOL says that most requests get turned down." (Emphasis added)

I know someone's going to say that it's good that the law can protect people from identity theft, let alone children from abuse. But this argument just reminds me of the poem about failure to protect Jews in Nazi Germany:

When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for the Jews,
I did not speak out;
I was not a Jew.

When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.

Today they're protecting children and your identity. Tomorrow they'll be protecting personal property. When do the ends stop justifying the means?