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Report: U.S. leads worldwide snooping drive

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- The United States has led a worldwide drive to build the groundwork for expanded snooping in the digital era, two civil rights groups alleged in a new survey.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center and Privacy International highlighted what they called a push led by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation toward wiretap-friendly international communications standards.

Washington also has sought to curb the development and sale of hardware and software featuring strong encryption, the communications-scrambling know how aimed at securing data from prying eyes, the survey said.

"The U.S. government has led a worldwide effort to limit individual privacy and enhance the capability of its police and intelligence services to eavesdrop on personal conversations," the report, "Privacy & Human Rights 2000," said.

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The survey, to be released next week at a privacy conference in Venice, Italy, said FBI Director Louis Freeh had nudged countries such as Hungary and the Czech Republic to expand wiretapping.

FBI spokesman Steven Berry said the bureau was reserving comment on the report. In the early 1990s, it spearheaded what became the 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), which requires telecommunications equipment makers to leave their gear open to wiretaps.

U.S. authorities argued they needed such a law to keep up with criminals using sophisticated technology to dodge court-authorized surveillance.

"When the FBI was lobbying for CALEA in the United States, it also began working with the Justice and Interior ministers of the European Union towards creating international technical standards for wiretapping," the report said.

It also cited the FBI's recently disclosed "Carnivore" e-mail surveillance system, used with court orders to scan an Internet service provider's traffic for communications to and from a criminal suspect.

Quoting unnamed Russian computer security experts, the report said U.S. officials had advised Moscow on implementation of such network surveillance systems.

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, in turn, had proposed requiring Internet service providers to install surveillance devices based on a Russian system, the report said.

David Banisar, a Washington lawyer who is chief author of the survey, said the United States had pressed Japan to adopt its first laws allowing wiretapping. In addition, it had been promoting surveillance through the G-7 group of the largest industrialized nations plus Russia, the report said.

Banisar, in a telephone interview, said one result of U.S. policy had been to make it easier for repressive countries to maintain control over their citizens.

"And it also increases the amount of illegal wiretapping going on by making it technically easier," he said.

Separately, the report detailed what is known about Echelon, the reported code name for a communications-interception system said to be operated by intelligence agencies in Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and coordinated by the U.S. National Security Agency.

"The creation of a seamless international intelligence and law enforcement surveillance system has resulted in the potential for a huge international network that may, in practice, negate current rules and regulations prohibiting domestic communications surveillance by national intelligence agencies," it said.

Copyright 2000 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.



RELATED STORIES:
FBI to release Carnivore documents, but schedule draws fire
August 17, 2000
FBI says Carnivore will not devour privacy
July 21, 2000
McAfee ships cookie-cleaning software
September 20, 2000
Employer e-snooping measure nears vote
September 13, 2000
Japan's police gain right to tap phones and e-mail
August 16, 2000

RELATED SITES:
Privacy International
Electronic Privacy Information Center
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA)
The National Security Agency


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