Wiretapping the Internet: Will it fly?

A plan for legislation to allow the government to wiretap online communication, reported Monday by the Washington Post, is being met with strong resistance by the tech community.

“A wiretap mandate for the Internet is dead on arrival,” Michael Beckerman, CEO of The Internet Association, told Hillicon Valley. The Internet Association’s member companies include Google, Facebook and Yahoo. “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,” Beckerman said.

According to the Washington Post, the draft of the bill calls for significant fines on Internet companies that fail to comply with wiretap orders. The article portrays the FBI as frustrated over its limited wiretapping powers in the age of social media sites, online-messaging services and encrypted emails and text messages. The FBI says it needs to be able to tap into the communications of suspected criminals and terrorists, but laws such as the 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) don’t cover all the different types of online communications that now exist.

In 2010, the New York Times reported on a similar effort. Experts now and then bring up possible hacking and security issues. “I think it’s a disaster waiting to happen. If they start building in all these back doors, they will be exploited,” Steven M. Bellovin, a Columbia University computer science professor, told the NYT.

In addition to security and privacy concerns, critics of the yet-to-be-announced bill say it could discourage innovation.


Photo courtesy of the FBI


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  • steve hammill

    “Ya know, Sally, I think Fred is a lying, thieving cheat. It amazes me that he got to be the head of the FBI. We need to hang him by his toes.”

    With wiretap and decrypt everything – or nearly everything – authority, how long do you think it would take to have agents knocking at your door and Sally’s door?

    There is a reason for the wiretap laws.
    The power is easily abused by a scoundrel like FBI Fred.

  • Here’s a clue as to the Internet Association’s main reasons for opposing, in one of the linked articles:

    “It would be an enormous change for newly covered companies…. Implementation would be a huge technology and security headache, and the investigative burden and costs will shift to providers.”

    Companies in the heart of solid-blue territory start sounding like anti-government conservatives when the burden of regulations falls squarely on their shoulders for once. Never mind that the powers in question might, I dunno, prevent the next 9/11, Boston Marathon bombing, or worse. (Unlike SOPA, the burdens imposed in this case are to further the public interest, not to line the pockets of corporate media empires.)

    Objections by the likes of EFF and CDT, as quoted, are valid yet unhelpful as they provide no *solutions*. There will likely be tons of FUD-slinging by an unholy alliance of self-interested industry associations and wingnut advocacy groups. The end result, I fear, is that Silicon Valley will once again present itself in DC as a disorganized mass of nutty ex-hippies, prioritizing our own companies’ profits and whining about civil liberties while turning a blind eye to grave national concerns about criminal justice and terrorism.

    • curmudgeon2000

      I wonder if people would be so sanguine about increased surveillence
      if they were told it was to help prevent the 30,000 annual deaths
      from the frequent gun violence in this country, instead of three
      deaths from an extremely rare act of domestic terrorism. In any
      case, there is no evidence that increased surveillence can prevent
      terrorism or even everyday street crime, and plenty of evidence that
      it can’t.

      Terrorists can only maim and kill us. It takes citizens like Antone Johnson
      and our pandering politicians to destroy our liberty.

  • MCinAZ

    Hey, FBI, here’s a message you can intercept and decrypt:

    Gur evtug bs gur crbcyr gb or frpher va gurve crefbaf, ubhfrf, cncref, naq rssrpgf, ntnvafg haernfbanoyr frnepurf naq frvmherf, funyy abg or ivbyngrq, naq ab Jneenagf funyy vffhr, ohg hcba cebonoyr pnhfr, fhccbegrq ol Bngu be nssvezngvba, naq cnegvphyneyl qrfpevovat gur cynpr gb or frnepurq, naq gur crefbaf be guvatf gb or frvmrq.

  • sd

    Well, if wiretapping the Internet will help prevent the next terrorist strike, maybe we ought to include Uncle Sam on all telephone conversations, let him intercept all text messages, and have the friendly postal service deliver our envelopes pre-opened.

    I’m sick of seeing vital freedoms in this country (in *any* medium) given the shaft so that authorities who’ve proved to be less than protective in *many* instances claim to be doing this to help them maintain the American Way Of Life. Giving up our privacy to corporations and the cops pretty well nails the coffin shut on America. Congratulations, Osama. You won.