The White House has asked Congress to make it possible for the FBI to demand that Internet service providers turn over customers' records in cases involving terrorism or other intelligence issues without first obtaining a court order.
The Electronic Communications Privacy Act currently states that companies are required to provide basic subscriber data to the FBI, but lists only the four kinds of information that might be found on phone bills -- customer's name, address, length of service, and toll billing records.
In 2008, the Justice Department ruled that those four categories were "exhaustive," making some companies reluctant to provide any additional information. The proposed amendment would add the phrase "electronic communication transactional records" to the list in order to include the recipients of emails and when they were sent and received -- though not their content. It might also cover web browsing history.
The administration is describing the proposal as intended to prevent "confusion" on the part of service providers, but the Washington Post notes that "what officials portray as a technical clarification designed to remedy a legal ambiguity strikes industry lawyers and privacy advocates as an expansion of the power the government wields through so-called national security letters."