05/10/2013 02:42 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Are the FBI and IRS Secretly Reading Your Email Without a Warrant?

The American Civil Liberties Union has obtained documents revealing that the FBI and IRS may be reading emails and other electronic communications of U.S. citizens without obtaining a warrant. This comes just as reports have emerged that the Obama administration is considering approving an overhaul of government surveillance of the Internet.

Democracy Now! speaks with attorney Ben Wizner, director of the Speech Privacy and Technology Project at the American Civil Liberties Union. "The FBI wants to be able to intercept every kind of possible communication," he says.

The New York Times reported the new rules would make it easier to wiretap users of all kinds. Wizner explains: "If they get a warrant from a judge to listen to phone calls, they can go to a phone company and a switch can be flipped and they can listen to those phone calls. But there are lots of ways that we communicate online right now through emails, through chats, through text messages, through peer-to-peer encrypted communication -- where the technology doesn't exist for the FBI to get that information in real time."

"I think that there is this belief that greater surveillance leads to greater security. And I think that at times the opposite is true," Wizner says. "Trying to prevent terrorism is trying to find a needle in a haystack. There's just not a lot of terrorists. And the worst way to do that is to make the haystack so large that the needle can't be found. And the more information that gets swept up, stored, the harder it is for law enforcement, with their limited resources, to actually figure out what's going on."

Could New FBI Rules on Online Surveillance Lead to More Cyberattacks?

"The FBI basically wants to require all of these companies to rewrite their code in order to enable more government surveillance," Wizner explains.

"This new proposal adds a new level of danger, because it would require these companies to break encryption," Wizner explains. "There's many kinds of communication that human rights activists use, that journalists use, with end-to-end encryption, so that even the companies that are providing the services can't read the communication. The FBI considers this a 'going dark' problem. They don't want us to be able to communicate with each other in that kind of encrypted way. And in order to accomplish that, they would make the whole Internet less secure, because in order to build in this kind of surveillance back door, you're essentially opening up all of these online platforms to cyber-attack from criminals, from hackers, from foreign governments."

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