According to Google and several other Internet industry sources, the Feds have been secretly demanding that Internet providers turn over complete access to stored user account passwords and associated master encryption keys as part of the government’s escalating clandestine bulk surveillance activities against all Americans.
If the government Gestapo goons can get your Internet passwords they can log into your private accounts, rummage through your personal data and confidential communications, use your account to impersonate you on the Internet, and then use the ill-gotten information to decipher all your other passwords in order to gain access to all your private Internet accounts and all your most personal, intimate and private information.
The goal of the United States government is to eventually make everyone’s life an open book.
"I've certainly seen them ask for passwords," said one Internet industry source who spoke on condition of anonymity. "We push back."
Some of the government orders demand not only a user's password but also the encryption algorithm and the so-called salt, according to a person familiar with the requests. A salt is a random string of letters or numbers used to make it more difficult to reverse the encryption process and determine the original password. Other orders demand the secret question codes often associated with user accounts.
"This is one of those unanswered legal questions: Is there any circumstance under which they could get password information?" ponders Jennifer Granick, director of civil liberties at Stanford University's Center for Internet and Society, "I don't know."
Well, I do know! That simple question was answered definitively more than 200 years ago with ratification of the Fourth Amendment and the Bill or Rights:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
The sad fact is that today the federal government with the eager assistance of Congress thinks that it has the right to pass laws such as the Patriot Act which flatly violate the Fourth Amendment and the rights of privacy which were once enjoyed by all Americans.
The Patriot Act has been used to demand entire database dumps of phone call logs, and critics have suggested its use is broader. "The authority of the government is essentially limitless" under that law, admits Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat who serves on the Senate Intelligence committee.
The U.S. Department of Justice has argued in court that it has broad legal authority to obtain passwords. First, “impersonating someone is legal," for police to do opines Orin Kerr, a law professor at George Washington University and a former federal prosecutor. Second, the possibility that passwords could be used to log into users' accounts is not sufficient legal grounds for a Web provider to refuse to divulge them he said.
Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer says she fears winding up in prison for treason if she refused to comply with US spy demands for data. She admitted that Yahoo scrutinizes and fights US government data requests stamped with the authority of a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, but when the company losses battles it must do as directed or risk being branded a traitor.
Data requests authorized by the court come with an order barring anyone at the company receiving the request from disclosing anything about them, even their existence. "If you don't comply, it is treason," said Mayer. "We can't talk about it because it is classified… Releasing classified information is treason, and you are incarcerated. In terms of protecting our users, it makes more sense to work within the system."
So the U.S. government is now claiming the right, via the Patriot Act and other federal statutes, to simply trash the Fourth Amendment in the dubious cause of protecting national security. The goons believe that their authority is limitless. They can take over your account without your consent, impersonate you on the Internet without your knowledge, and throw innocent Internet providers in prison for treason if they don’t divulge your account passwords or comply with all their demands.
And it’s all happening in secret. It’s all classified. I’m sure we don’t know the half of it. It’s exactly the same as burglarizing your home while you’re away, rummaging through your private papers and effects, taking what it wants and knowing that you will never be the wiser. Your government thinks that is legal.
That’s the America we live in today: an American Gestapo threatening, intimidating and demanding everything about everyone including passwords.