Push for US Internet 'wiretap' law faces tough road

The FBI is stepping up its effort to get broader authority to put "wiretaps" on the Internet to catch criminals and terrorists. But the move is drawing fire from civil liberties groups, technology firms and others who claim the effort could be counterproductive, by harming online security and imposing hefty costs on makers of hardware and software.

US law enforcement has for years complained about the problem of "going dark," or being unable to monitor in the same manner as wiretaps, for which officials get a court order to tap into a local phone company.

President said in a May 23 speech his administration is "reviewing the authorities of law enforcement, so we can intercept new types of communication."

FBI general counsel Andrew Weissmann told a recent Washington forum it would be "a top priority this year" to get expanded authority to tap communications such as "Gmail, voice (and) Dropbox."

"The way we communicate today is not limited to ," Weissmann said. "What we don't have is the ability to go to court and require the recipient to effectuate the intercept. Most countries have that."

The FBI can get a court order to monitor Internet-based communications under current law, and major companies like Google and Microsoft may be able to comply.

But many other firms lack the technical capacity to allow this kind of surveillance. The proposal under consideration, according to published reports, would require firms to enable government access or face hefty fines.

The US administration has made no public proposal on wiretap authority, but even the hint of a change has sparked a heated response.

Critics say such a move would be tantamount to giving the government a "backdoor" to every piece of hardware and software being used, which could be exploited by hackers, foreign governments or others.

"It's an intentional that they hope will only be used by the good guys, but we have evidence that the bad guys use it too," said Joseph Hall, senior technologist at the Center for Democracy and Technology, a digital rights organization.

Hall said that to make the program work, law enforcement would need to get "all the encryption keys" for hardware and require software to be designed with so-called backdoor access, imposing new costs on .

A CDT report endorsed by 20 security and technology experts underscored the problems with any new Internet surveillance authority.

Mandating a virtual wiretap "is harmful," said Edward Felten, a Princeton University computer scientist who was among those endorsing the report.

"The port makes it easier for attackers to capture the very same data that law enforcement wants," he said in a blog posting.

"Better yet (for the intruder), the capability will be stealthy by design, making it difficult for the user to tell that anything is amiss," he added.

"Beyond this, the mandate would make it harder for users to understand, monitor, and fix their own systems—which is bad for security."

Bruce Schneier, a computer security and cryptography expert, said the proposal would be "horribly ineffective."

"Mandating wiretap capability in vast swaths of software will render normal law-abiding people less secure, while allowing criminals and terrorists to disable the wiretap capability or use more secure products from other countries," he said.

Technology companies also fiercely oppose any measure leading to government access, saying it would stifle innovation, impose costs on US firms and make their products less competitive in global markets.

"The Department of Justice has not made the case for granting law enforcement broad new powers over Internet companies for purposes of new wiretap authority," said Michael Beckerman of the Internet Association, a lobby for tech companies.

"There are a number of serious unintended consequences with this flawed proposal. A wiretap mandate for the Internet is dead on arrival."

CDT's Hall said recent investigations suggest the FBI and other agencies already collect vast amounts of information that could help prevent crimes but fail to make use of it.

"Maybe it's time to use the mountains of information the collects in a smarter way rather than trying to get more information," he said.

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Report: US would make Internet wiretaps easier

© 2013 AFP

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Jun 02, 2013
FBI chief reports that every electronic exchange is already recorded. Much of that is stored in Bluffdale, Utah by masonic Mormons whose religion informs they will become a god ruling their own planet and gentiles will be their slaves. The parallels between mornomism and nazis are disturbing

Jun 02, 2013
Hezbollah progressives already monitor and punish those that they consider threats. Anyone who supports the first, second, and forth amendments in the constitution must be punished and monitored by the EPA, DOJ, IRS.

Who cares about terrorists.... the real terrorists are those the support the constitution.

Jun 02, 2013
@freethinking It's a pity that we actually agree on a topic yet you're too retarded to recognize the common cause. Christianity is a mental disease. Get help

Jun 02, 2013
Kochevnik, great that we agree that Hezbollah Progressiveness is dangerous. Do you now believe Hezbollah Progressive-ism is a mental disorder as well? Are you becoming a conservative, believing in and expecting from yourself and others truth, justice, honor, integrity, and respect?

Jun 02, 2013
Kochevnik, great that we agree that Hezbollah Progressiveness is dangerous. Do you now believe Hezbollah Progressive-ism is a mental disorder as well? Are you becoming a conservative, believing in and expecting from yourself and others truth, justice, honor, integrity, and respect?
If I ever gave the impression that any of Abraham's bastard children have less potential for cronyism and terror than the other two. I apologize. Freethinking is about freedom from the shackles of belief and fear. Institutions such as the FBI, Homo Insecurity and religious institutions are about maintaining a power system based upon the human brainstem, not the human brain. I refer you to Einstein "He who joyfully marches to music in rank and file has already earned my contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would suffice."

Jun 02, 2013
Here is the problem with your concept free-trying-to-thing; you said
Are you becoming a conservative, believing in and expecting from yourself and others truth, justice, honor, integrity, and respect?

I've always been amazed at the blatant double speak conservatives do; certainly none of the virtues can be attributed to conservatives. They lie, the are un-just and have no sense of fairness, they lack honor in their dealings, and have little integrity about with they say, and therefore deserve no respect!

Jun 03, 2013
Around 94>95 Att. Gen. Janet Reno push and had passed a bill that required
all tele-com companies to install the "Ease of Eavesdropping Chip"
into their equipment. Failure to comply had $25,000 a day fine. Sources were
PC & Internetworld Mags > 94/95 issue.
So what I am wondering is how the new will react with the old???

Jun 03, 2013
Unfortunately conservatives falter and fail like any humans. When they do, they leave public life. Hezbollah Progressives on the other hand, rape, debauchery, drug taking, killing someone and walking away, bombing, lying, cheating, not paying taxes are badges of honor and qualify them for higher office.

Hate and destruction are hallmarks of the Hezbollah Progressives. There is very little difference between Muslim fanatics and Hezbollah Progressives.

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