Real He-Man Bugging
The New Improved Anti-Terrorism Act of 1996 will let federal agents listen in on your telephone and bug your home and business for political investigations. The President wants to keep you safe from terrorism. Fine, no way I want to get blown up by some nut with a Semtex connection. But hey—do you have a friend in Ireland? In Lebanon? In France? FBI Director Louis Freeh wants to know what you're talking about. Now if it's just hot phone sex, you're okay. But he will be listening. Because whereas phone sex is still legal, talking with a "designated terrorist organization" will get you a 30-day wiretap authorization, extendible ad infinitum. And under the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, the U.S. Department of Justice gets to designate who the terrorists are.

But if you're only talking to your boyfriend or girlfriend, you'll be okay, right?

Nope, not if the White House and the FBI get their way with the new counterterrorirm proposals. The feds will be permitted to listen in on your phone, your fax, your computer for a good 48 hours without a warrant. The FBI wants to legalize the same kind of political surveillance they conducted illegally in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. Oh, you say, you're not political? Well, good, because the government will have 48 hours to check that out—without a warrant. "This is the same FBI and DOJ that brought you Ruby Ridge, Waco, and Filegate," says Leslie Hagin, legislative director and counsel for the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers in Washington, D.C.. "The FBI's wiretapping was reined in by Congress in 1968, through the current wiretapping laws, after many decades of abuse—largely because members of Congress were fed up with having their own offices and phones bugged and tapped!"

When you roll that proposed legislation in with the Communications Assistance to Law Enforcement Act, you can see Big Brother from miles away.

That little number, passed late on a Friday night in October of 1994 and unreported in the press for a year, orders local and long-distance telephone companies to provide the feds with the hardware and software necessary to permit them to eavesdrop on any telephone in the country from a "remote" location of their choosing—sort of a National Wiretap Office.

No more climbing telephone poles or breaking into junction boxes; no more sitting in vans night and day, winter and summer, listening and taping, listening and taping. In the future, all that will be automated (at least for the feds), and the Future Is Now, as the late great George Allen once said.

FBI wiretap guru Alan McDonald says the FBI doesn't do illegal taps. It doesn't have to, when a federal agent can get state cops to do his dirty work for him.

In Tampa, Fla., a few years ago, U.S. Customs special agent James Taman got the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Department and Tampa police to obtain apply for state Electronic Surveillance Orders (ESOs) both before and after planting bugs in phones and offices of Key Bank. U.S. District Judge Clarence Newcomer threw out the evidence after finding that it was illegal.

"Approximately 65,000 calls and 1,123 hours of conversations were monitored," the judge wrote in his decision. "There appears to be no justification for such a massive invasion of so many individuals' expectations of privacy in confidential banking or personal telephone conversations."

Bank officers and their customers were suspected of money laundering, one of the most serious federal crimes in Title 18 of the U.S. Code, carrying a penalty of up to 20 years and a $500,000 for each offense.

A state racketeering case based on the same wiretaps also crashed and burned when Hillsborough Circuit Judge M. William Graybill ruled that the evidence could not be used to prosecute the bank officers and two of their customers in state court either. When the Florida appeals court upheld Graybill's suppression order, embarrassed federal prosecutors quietly withdrew their appeal of Newcomer's decision. The cases went away.

Michael Peros runs Privacy Electronics , which sells surveillance and counter-surveillance equipment and also does security sweeps for hidden listening devices. Mike's the guy who first discovered that Key Bank was bugged, after he was hired to do a routine sweep. "I even found a tap on the pay phone in the men's room," Mike told me on a recent visit to Washington. Apparently there's no privacy anywhere anymore.


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