Julian Sanchez

Julian Sanchez is a writer based in Washington, D.C., and a research fellow at the Cato Institute.

Recent Articles

Wiretapping the Internet

New regulations give law enforcement a "back door" to monitor online communications, threatening civil liberties and stifling innovation in the process.

(Flickr/publik16)
Taking a cue from the authoritarian regimes of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates , American law-enforcement and intelligence agencies are seeking to re-engineer the Internet and other digital communications networks to make them easier to spy on. In the week since the plan became public, it has been roundly condemned by civil liberties groups and security experts -- and rightly so. While the proposal described in Monday's New York Times probably won't do much to hinder sophisticated criminals or terrorists, it does threaten to undermine the security of global communications and stifle technological innovation. The details are still being hammered out, but the Times reports that next year the Obama administration will seek legislation requiring telecoms, online services, and software companies that enable encrypted communications -- from instant messaging to Voice over IP -- to build back doors into their systems for the government, guaranteeing law enforcement the ability to...

Obama's Power Grab

The Obama administration wants to "clarify" FBI power to get online records without warrants -- and vastly expand it.

FBI Director Robert Mueller during a news conference on the gathering of personal information. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
They're calling it a tweak -- a "technical clarification" -- but make no mistake: The Obama administration and the FBI's demand that Congress approve a huge expansion of their authority to obtain the sensitive Internet records of American citizens without a judge's approval is a brazen attack on civil liberties. At issue is the scope of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's power to obtain information from "electronic communications service providers" using national security letters (NLS), which compel private companies to allow government access to communication records without a court order. The administration wants to add four words -- "electronic communication transactional records" -- to Section 2709 of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act , which spells out the types of communications data that can be obtained with an NSL. Yet those four little words would make a huge difference, potentially allowing investigators to draw detailed road maps of the online activity of...

Obama, Congress Wink at Massive Surveillance Abuses

This week's reauthorization of the Patriot Act comes on the heels of the revelation Obama's Office of Legal Counsel granted fresh retroactive immunity for Bush-era telecommunication lawbreaking.

(Flickr/mpujals)
Here's how it was supposed to be . Under his administration, candidate Barack Obama explained in 2007, America would abandon the "false choice between the liberties we cherish and the security we provide." There would be "no more National Security Letters to spy on citizens who are not suspected of a crime" because "that is not who we are, and it is not what is necessary to defeat the terrorists." Even after his disappointing vote for the execrable FISA Amendments Act of 2008 , which expanded government surveillance power while retroactively immunizing telecoms for their role in George W. Bush's warrantless wiretapping, civil libertarians held out hope that the erstwhile professor of constitutional law would begin to restore some of the checks on government surveillance power that had been demolished in the panicked aftermath of the September 11 attacks. The serial betrayal of that hope reached its culmination last week, when a Democratic-controlled Congress quietly voted to...

Real Reform for the PATRIOT Act?

The Senate is reviewing Bush-era surveillance powers set to expire at the end of the year. This could be the moment to revise the whole architecture of post-9/11 spying law.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, right, and Sen. Russ Feingold. (AP Photo/Dennis Cook)
George W. Bush may have left D.C., but the vast surveillance machine he spent eight years building via the PATRIOT Act hums merrily along. Whether or not that continues could well be determined today, as the Senate Judiciary Committee meets to mark up legislation renewing a series of PATRIOT Act powers due to expire at the end of the year. Barack Obama's Justice Department has said it's open to "modifications" of the expiring powers -- but some Democratic legislators see an opportunity to revisit and revise the whole architecture of post-9/11 spying law. If history is any guide, press attention will focus overwhelmingly on a proposal to repeal the controversial immunity Congress retroactively granted to telecoms that participated in the National Security Agency's extralegal program of warrantless wiretaps. Far more consequential for the privacy rights of Americans, however, are two surveillance powers that would finally be subject to reasonable limits by the ambitious JUSTICE Act ,...

Democrats Capitulate on FISA

Democrats are trying to rationalize capitulating on surveillance and telecom immunity in the new FISA bill by calling it a compromise. It isn't.

Editors' Note: This piece has been corrected . A "compromise" usually involves parties in conflict each giving something up to seek a middle ground. So it was strange to see the term bandied about on Friday, when the House of Representatives -- after holding strong for months against White House demands -- passed a surveillance reform bill that will grant legal amnesty to telecoms that participated in the National Security Agency's program of warrantless wiretapping, and give George Bush carte blanche to continue listening to our international calls with only the most anemic court oversight. A vote in the Senate could come as early as today. One might think, as Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) does , that the proper word for this is "capitulation." After all, Republicans got precisely what they had wanted all along, and Democrats seem not to have wheedled even a mess of pottage in trade for the rule of law and the Fourth Amendment. But give the House leadership points for at least accidental...

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