FBI wants backdoor wiretapping access to Google, Facebook, and other popular websites

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The Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act in the United State allows law enforcement to wiretap internet communications, like VoIP (typically a warrant is needed for such wiretaps but there are so many “national security” loopholes nowadays, it is hard to tell). But the law only applies to internet service providers, who must provide law enforcement agencies backdoor access to perform such wiretaps; the law doesn’t apply to popular sites used for communication like Facebook and Google. The FBI wants to change that.

According to a report by the Washington Post, proposals are being prepared for a law that would fine tech companies for not complying to “enable law enforcement officials to intercept online communications as they occur.” This means things like chats on Facebook and Google services, as well as other websites, would be open for law enforcement to monitor through “wiretapping backdoors”. It is unclear if this proposal also applies to mobile-to-mobile internet communications like iMessage and WhatsApp.

The fines that companies would have to face if they don’t comply with wiretap orders reportedly start at tens of thousands of dollars, with fines that are left unpaid for 90 days doubling daily.

According to Ars Technica, the FBI would not comment on the reports but the Washington Post has quoted the FBI’s top lawyer publicly complaining about the issue, saying that “the agency doesn’t have access to techniques that are available to law enforcement in other nations.”

The new proposal is currently still in its drafting stages, but as more and more communication is done online, expect to hear more about the FBI trying to fix their “going dark” problem in the future. Or maybe they will shutup and continue to spy on people with “Firefox”.

What do you think of wiretapping online communication? Are you against it or is it a necessary evil? Let us know in the comments!

[via Ars Technica, image via cliff1066™]

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13 comments

  1. Louis

    Politicians (in every country) only truly care about the power to control — they are the supreme opportunists, even in (and especially in) times of crisis and catastrophe.

    Those times, and in the aftermath, they will use as an excuse to further tighten the net around ordinary law-abiding citizens, under the guise of “protection against terror etc”.

    The shocked and confused public, including otherwise clear-headed people, then only see the trees in front of them, and not the whole forest, and allow themselves, through their representatives, to be suckered into agreeing to everything, if they even have a say..

    One thing we have come to understand (I hope) is that ‘security legislation’ aka ‘information gathering on private individuals’, once it has passed unto law, will NEVER be undone, even if the threat doesn’t (did ?) exist anymore.

    So clearly this means only two things :

    Don’t EVER vote any president into power for a second term, for it just gives him/her carte blanche todto whatever agenda is up his/her sleeve, knowing that he/she can’t be re-elected, and won’t be held accountable in a next election, therefore that check and balance has been removed.

    Secondly, and most importantly : We DO need a little paranoia (not too much, that would be unhealthy), but yes : We are being monitored (echelon …. etc…) :

    NO-ONE but ourselves will protect our privacy (you don’t need to be a drug smuggler to want to keep your private matters private).

    So step one is to fork out a little cash (it really isn’t all that expensive) and start using a good VPN service that has servers in most countries, on a permanent basis (my VPN inside China has never let me down, en though they cracked down hard on VPN’s earlier this year, mine wasn’t affected).

    If you need to send highly secure email itself, not only secure file attachments, use (for free) what seems to be the most secure email service (http://www.safe-mail.net/) according to my research (I’m in mainland China for a number of years).

    If you want to send secure file attachments, create e.g. a self-extracting encrypted SFX archive with 7Zip and send that by email.

    Do the same for EVERYTHING you upload to a cloud storage service.

    If you want to use an online chat program, use Pidgin (can talk to MSN / Yahoo / Gmail etc as well), and load the “OTR plugin for Pidgin” — the other party has to as well — there are other solutions that will also encrypt online chatting — no eavesdropping possible.

    And so on …

    But WE need to take personal control over the process of protecting ourselves, we can no longer rely or trust our political representatives — clearly the tide has turned permanently against freedom of speech, or at the least, against the right to privacy.

    But of course, this is all for the greater good of mankind :-(

    TABULA RASA !

  2. kevbo

    [@Coyote]
    Although I certainly cannot remember 100 years ago, I can (almost) remember 50 years ago, and if you’re referring to the freedom that results from the expectation of a reasonable amount of privacy in a free society, I think you are mistaken.

    [@Seamus McSeamus]
    Yes, as a young’un, my biggest fear wasn’t what would happen if I was caught by the police or another adult for some minor infraction, it was what would happen when they dragged by butt in front of my parents.

    Agreed also on your second point: the fundamental social assumptions on which the system was meant to operate have been torn asunder.

  3. Seamus McSeamus

    [@nstoll]

    It’s not just Obama. We need a clean slate with less government, more safeguards for personal freedoms & state’s rights, limits on how long you can work in government, and an abolition of paid lobbyists.

  4. Seamus McSeamus

    [@Darcy]

    Too late. [@Darcy]

    The thing is that even without the data center in Utah, all the government needs to do *now* to see your email is this:

    US Government: “Yo, Google… give us John Doe’s email for the past 12 months.”

    Google: “Okay.”

    Substitute just about any email provider for Google and it’s pretty much the same. Occasionally a warrant will be offered, but these days the Patriot Act can be invoked to force just about anything to be handed over.

    It doesn’t help any that there is so much cross contamination between government and industry these days. The cozy relationship helps blur lines even more.

  5. Darcy

    Instead of more ways to invade our lives, we need the provisions of privacy our forefathers intended extended into the digital realm. When it comes to the US mail, there are laws that require legal actions before any government agency can read them, those laws don’t exist for emails. Last I heard the FBI was building, and might have finished it by now for all I know, a multi-million dollar facility for monitoring Internet traffic in real time and scanning for keywords.

    I think that needs to be fixed before they get access to more ways to invade our privacy. Let them have the access but only for the same reasons and under the same conditions that they can get a legal wiretap. Anything else will be abused.

  6. V

    I WOULD comment upon this but I’m afraid of attracting governmental ire … and the rest of you should be, too else you wake up to find yourself in Gitmo with gallons of water being poured over your face.

    We live in a new age and while we can’t stop the gov’t from knowing what we do, we CAN stop them from caring, or at least singling us out individually. The new privacy is equivalent to the method of surviving a tiger attack: You do not have to outrun the tiger, you just have to outrun the *other* dude running from the tiger.

    Ixnay the riticismca* is my advice. Welcome to the brave new world.

    * http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pig_Latin

  7. nstoll

    I think it is a violation of our first amendment rights. The government is plowing away our privacy, security and all other rights that they can think of from telling us how much soda/pop we can drink per cup to eliminating the right to bear arms. They think they can trash the Bill of Rights, re-write or abolish the U.S. Constitution as well as the Constitutions of all the States. The country and government needs a reality check and impeach Obama out of office.

  8. Seamus McSeamus

    A nibble here, another nibble there, a few more rights down the toilet. Most people in America are brain dead… as long as they have Facebook and can watch Honey Boo Boo and keep up with the antics of Lindsay Lohan, they don’t care what rights they lose. Most aren’t even aware of what their rights *are*. Lets just go ahead and install the spy cams in our houses now and be done with it, right?

  9. MarkQ

    “the agency doesn’t have access to techniques…”? Why, of course, FBI is a poor agency. Wait, what? Well, yeah, monetarily as well. But surely that’s what fine extortion is intended to help with, right?

  10. n.n

    I wonder how many people appreciate their privacy, security, and integrity. This may signal the beginning of the end for massive, centralized governing systems. This may be the final incentive for development of personal servers and a distributed network. A centralized system may be more efficient, but it is likely to suffer corruption through a reduction of competition. A distributed system is more robust and highly fault tolerant.