U.S. Wants to Ease FBI Access to E-Mail Records, Web Activity

The White House wants to enhance the FBI's ability to snoop on the e-mails and Internet history of suspected terrorists, a proposal that has raised alarm bells for privacy advocates.

The Washington Post reported on its website Wednesday night that the Obama administration wants to add to the list of items that can be obtained without a judge's permission, by inserting four key words: "electronic communication transactional records."

This would reportedly make it easier for the FBI to obtain records on individual Internet activities without first obtaining a court order when it involves terrorism or intelligence investigations. The report said this new category of information could include e-mail addresses, times and dates that e-mails are sent and received, and possibly an Internet user's browser history.

The newspaper said the data would not include actual content of e-mails and other communications, likening the data to phone records.

But 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.

Michelle Richardson, American Civil Liberties Union legislative counsel, called it an example of an administration retreating from campaign pledges to enhance civil liberties in relation to national security. The proposal is "incredibly bold, given the amount of electronic data the government is already getting," she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.