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Facebook Backdoor Interception: FBI wants P2P and social media wiretap-friendly

Published time: May 05, 2012 10:34
Edited time: May 05, 2012 14:52
AFP Photo / Thomas Coex

AFP Photo / Thomas Coex

The US is preparing to face FBI-drafted legislation enabling it to monitor any personal communication activities in the web. It aims to use preset backdoors in social networks, online messaging, internet telephony and even Xbox gaming servers.

­Tech media website Cnet.com has obtained information that the FBI is already in talks with internet giants on an unprecedented surveillance program, having the legislation approved by the Department of Justice.

The FBI intends surreptitiously to rush a law obliging companies like Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo to install government surveillance options into their software on default.

The agency confesses that it faces considerable difficulties in wiretapping suspects since more and more people are shifting their communications from phones to internet.

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Surveillance: From broadband to Skype

­When the CALEA (Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act) was adopted back in 1994, the US government obliged only telecommunications providers to cooperate with its agencies, totally forgetting about the emerging internet capabilities.

In 2004, the Federal Communications Commission extended CALEA to cover broadband networks.

In 2012, it appears the turn has come for all the American web companies to lie under the government altogether.

The FBI wants everything that can be used for communicating to fall under the new amendment to CALEA. This means that social networking, emails, instant messaging and VoIP (anything resembling Skype and ICQ) will have an “extra coding” to strip those who use them of all of their secrets at any given time. And the companies providing those services will not be even asked for permission.

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FBI struggles with the world ‘going dark’

­An unnamed FBI representative told Cnet.com that there are “significant challenges posed to the FBI” in the accomplishment of its “diverse mission”, and the rapidly changing technology influences that result a lot.

“A growing gap exists between the statutory authority of law enforcement to intercept electronic communications pursuant to court order and our practical ability to intercept those communications. The FBI believes that if this gap continues to grow, there is a very real risk of the government 'going dark,' resulting in an increased risk to national security and public safety,” the source told Cnet.com.

In February 2011 the FBI acknowledged the agency’s inability to keep up its surveillance capabilities with communications technological development calling it the “going dark” problem. Having admitted the bitter fact of technological incompliance, the agency initiated this new comprehensive web surveillance program.

An obvious solution to the problem was adopting legislation to the needs of the government which the FBI is busy realizing right now.

The FBI calls the program the National Electronic Surveillance Strategy. The Electronic Frontier Foundation reported that as early as in 2006 the FBI was already concerned with “going dark” and established a special division developing the "latest and greatest investigative technologies to catch terrorists and criminals." In 2009 the division employed 107 full-time specialists.

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Another battle for human rights and privacy

­Internet companies might be not happy with the new legislation at all, righteously considering that the law will most probably spark a public revolt similar to unsuccessful attempts to push through notorious SOPA, PIPA and ACTA anti-pirate legislation. Moreover, clients’ privacy an integral part of IT products and by trading it off, software companies might ruin their business.

"If you create a service, product, or app that allows a user to communicate, you get the privilege of adding that extra coding," the IT industry representative familiar with the FBI's draft legislation told CNET.

The draft law also implies that IT companies will be allowed to supply the government with proprietary information to decode information obtained through a wiretap or other type of lawful interception.

IT companies cannot say “no” to the government right off the bat, therefore consultations between the FBI officials and internet company CEOs and top lawyers are already being held.

Reportedly, the FBI's draft legislation mentions some sort of “compliance costs” of internet companies.

Internet giants utilize lobbyist resources to try to protect their businesses interests in Washington, but the issue of mass control might be too hot for them to handle.

The situation strikingly resembles the one with the music and web content industry, which fails to adapt to new realities of free access to almost anything, including goodies that fall under the copyright laws. The entertainment industry, too, is using its lobbyists to push through punitive legislation to guarantee high profits without evolutionary changes to itself.

In the case with the web backdoor surveillance though, the FBI intends to violate basic human rights on such a high mass-involvement level that a 1984-scenario might appear almost no exaggeration.

If the FBI obtains the legislation it asks for, Lord forbid you should play on the terrorists’ side on an Xbox server, because your game console will report your terrorist sympathies. And this valuable information will definitely find a decent place in a personal dossier of yours somewhere in an underground FBI data center.

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