Justice Department effort to eavesdrop on airline passengers challenged

Two privacy groups asked the Federal Communications Commission this week to reject a proposal that would give the Justice Department sweeping new powers to eavesdrop on cell phone calls and Internet usage by airline passengers.

The Justice and the Homeland Security departments submitted several proposals to the FCC in May and July seeking authority to monitor the electronic communications of airline passengers. The proposals would allow Justice to record all electronic activity without a court order, identify any user by seat number, and automatically interrupt or shut down any communication.

In a petition filed Wednesday, the Center for Democracy and Technology and the Electronic Frontier Foundation argue that the FCC does not have jurisdiction to address the full range of constitutional, privacy and civil liberties concerns that are raised by the proposal. The groups also say the proposal would place undefined burdens on industry to comply.

CDT and EFF say that any action by the commission would violate the Constitution as well as the Administrative Procedures Act and the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act. The groups claim that Justice is trying to do an end run around Congress and get the FCC to give it new authorities without proper public debate.

The Justice Department did not return a telephone call seeking comment Thursday.

"The commission should decline DoJ's requests, and should instead defer to Congress, which is the only body that can in the first instance consider the constitutional and policy problems raised by such unprecedented proposals," the groups wrote.

"We do not dispute the fact that law enforcement is able, under existing laws and without any action by the commission, to obtain a court order that permits the interception of the electronic communications of people in airplanes," the groups added. "Instead, the critical issues are whether the commission has any statutory authority whatsoever to impose anticipatory, full-time and warrantless interception of information about all communications of all airline passengers--a proposal seemingly drawn directly from George Orwell's 1984--and whether law enforcement should be given extraordinarily invasive design control over air-to-ground communications."

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.