FBI Pushes To Make Websites Wiretap Ready

By @katierucke |
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    A demonstrator holds a computer keyboard during a demonstration in Tunis, Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013.  (AP Photo)

    A demonstrator holds a computer keyboard during a demonstration in Tunis, Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013. (AP Photo)

    (MintPress) – Reasoning that technological advances have hindered their ability to conduct surveillance, the FBI has continued to pressure software companies to build in “back doors” for police.

    This “backdoor computing” would allow the government to access information on a computer without being detected and without going through an authentication process that protects privacy; it’s a simpler way for the FBI or other law enforcement officials to bypass getting a warrant as these “e-wiretaps” would not be traceable.

    In September, FBI director Robert Mueller told a U.S. Senate committee that while many communications providers “are not required to build or maintain intercept capabilities,” he added that it’s important to “ensure that [the FBI’s] ability to obtain communications pursuant to court order is not eroded.”

    “Because of this gap between technology and the law, law enforcement is increasingly unable to access the information it needs to protect public safety and the evidence it needs to bring criminals to justice,” Mueller said.

    While it’s not entirely clear how many problems the FBI faces while attempting to conduct surveillance from wireless communication, encryption and social networks, the FBI has proposed that Congress amend a 1994 law called the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), which would expand the law to include Web companies in addition to telecommunications providers.

    In response, digital rights groups such as the San Francisco-based Electronic Front Foundation (EFF) have pointed out that even without the implementation of a new law, the industry already cooperates and gives the FBI and other U.S. law enforcement officials all the information they need.

    On its website the group wrote: “It is crucial to remember that the issue here is not whether law enforcement can tap new technologies like VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) but whether they can tap it easily. Existing laws already permit law enforcement to place Internet users under surveillance regardless of what programs or protocols they are using to communicate.”

    The amendment to CALEA is just part of the FBI’s campaign to create legislation that eases Internet surveillance laws, since most people now communicate via the Internet than they do telephones. The bureau refers to their inability to legally track Americans suspected of illegal activities as the “Going Dark” problem.

    In May the FBI announced their proposed solution to “Going Dark” with a law that would require Internet companies including Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo and Google to build in backdoors for surveillance. The bureau claims that any surveillance would still require a court to be involved, just like phone wiretapping, but not everyone is convinced the FBI will always obtain a warrant first.

    Groups like the EFF don’t believe there’s a need to expand wiretapping laws to include the Internet and have launched a legal challenge to the proposed legislation.

    As EFF staff attorney Hanni Fakhoury told CNET: “New technologies have provided the FBI with unprecedented capabilities to conduct surveillance, making it faster and easier for the government to take a look at the increasingly intimate online portrayal of the lives of Americans. No longer does the government face anonymous pay-phones or the challenge of physically tracking a person’s location through time-consuming manual surveillance. Plus, with more and more conversations documented by some sort of electronic record, it seems to us that law enforcement has had no problem getting access to digital material from telecommunications providers with little judicial oversight or scrutiny. To ensure that the laws keep pace with new technology, we must ensure that the Fourth Amendment and due process remain paramount.”

    But it’s not just the FBI that is working to change Internet surveillance laws. The EFF has also reported that as the Obama administration begins to battle hacktivists like Anonymous and places more of a focus on cybersecurity, social networks and other web-based communications services may be forced to install wiretap-friendly back doors.

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