The US government wants a blanket right to tap secretly all international phone calls and e-mails made and received by US citizens.
In a letter to Congress in which he proposed changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell said, "The proposal makes clear that court orders are not necessary to effectively collect foreign intelligence about foreign targets overseas. The proposal would also provide a means of obtaining assistance that may be required from private parties."
This means the government could force communications companies to hand over customers' details, records and content of their messages. Nor would it have to prove a prior link between terrorism or serious organised crime. Information gained would be available to officials for 10 years.
The proposal prevents communications companies from telling their customers that they are subject to investigation, and protects them from being sued by customers.
McConnell said a Congressional counterproposal to an earlier DNI initiative "would also require in practice that we continue to divert scarce counterterrorism experts to compiling court submissions in order to gain judicial approval to gather necessary foreign intelligence about these overseas targets."
Civil liberties groups are against McConnell's proposal.
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