The suggestion from FBI Director Robert Mueller, which came during a House of Representatives Judiciary Committee hearing, appears to go beyond a current plan to monitor traffic on federal-government networks. Mueller seemed to suggest that the bureau should have a broad “omnibus” authority to conduct monitoring and surveillance of private-sector networks as well.
The surveillance should include all Internet traffic, Mueller said, “whether it be .mil, .gov, .com–whichever network you’re talking about.” (See the transcript of the hearing.)
In response to questions from Rep. Darrell Issa, a California Republican, Mueller said his idea “balances on one hand, the privacy rights of the individual who are receiving the information, but on the other hand, given the technology, the necessity of having some omnibus search capability utilizing filters that would identify the illegal activity as it comes through and give us the ability to preempt that illegal activity where it comes through a choke point.”
It’s true, abuses of power by the FBI are relatively rare. There are some spectacular counterexamples, however. Quite frankly, this seems to be a very bad security trade-off. What online criminal behavior is this going to interdict? Online gambling? Illegal file sharing? Somehow I don’t see a level of harm here that warrants broad scale general surveillance.