Wiretapping, Obama-style

Two days ago this story appeared on the New York Times website:

U.S. Tries to Make It Easier to Wiretap the Internet

Shades of George Bush and his warrantless wiretaps. Only this time it’s the Obama administration wanting easier access to Americans’ Internet activities.

Law enforcement and national security officials want to be able to intercept and unscramble encrypted communications on social networks (eg, Facebook), encrypted email carriers (eg, BlackBerry), and peer-to-peer messaging services (eg, Skype). And the administration is planning to introduce legislation next year to require the providers make whatever technological changes are necessary to ensure they can comply with any possible wiretap orders.

The government argues the move is necessary because its security and surveillance capabilities are gradually eroding. The idea is to force communications providers to change their technologies to accommodate government capabilities, instead of the government having to update its technology and methods to keep up with advancing communications technologies.

It’s worrisome that the government charged with protecting us is having difficulty tracking every communication of every possible criminal and terrorist in the world. But not by any stretch of the imagination does that entitle it to tell private companies what technologies they must develop and employ. Especially not when doing so endangers the privacy rights of the 96% of the world’s citizens who are not criminals or terrorists.



Categories: Internet, Law, Money, Politics, privacy, Sci/Tech

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11 replies

  1. Just more evidence why all incumbents need to be replaced. I don’t intend to vote for a single one of them.

    • We’re damned if we do, damned if we don’t. Vote in the non-incumbent and as soon as they get to Washington, they start acting like the incumbent they just became.

      • Damned if you aren’t right. The funny thing about that whole government effort is that we can all start using PGP (Pretty Good Protection) encryption and it (the government hoodlums) won’t be able to read what we write anyway. Government’s whole regulatory philosophy ignores the simple fact that regulations take months and years to implement whereas individuals and businesses can react to negate those regulations within seconds, minutes or hours. We can buy satellite phones from a foreign country and use their ISP’s instead of any that the US government has any control over. We can buy counterfeit ID cards containing any technological gimmicks the government employs to prevent counterfeiting within days of their design being announced. Driving people away from mainstream resources only lessens control. They’ll never understand that – apparently.

  2. I’m stuck between ambivalence and caring. Sometimes I read an article about privacy violation and think it’s awful that the government wants to stick their noses in things. Every administration has some form of this, I should add. This is just the current one. And there won’t be an end to it. Regardless of who gets elected, the people in charge of national security will continue to want more access. How could they not? It’s their job to spy on people. But then I think, why should I care? I’m not involved in subversive action. The people they’re trying to catch are people I WANT them to catch. Hell, if they want to read my SF drafts off of Google, or keep track of the text messages I send my wife and kids, have fun. They’re, frankly, not that entertaining. And then I think, well, it’s the principle of the thing. I should be free from being spied on.

    It goes back and forth. On one hand I care about privacy. On the other hand I care about security. Back and forth, back and forth.

    • Mandating that private sector companies weaken or change their existing and future security measures by building in “back door” access just for the US government is an abuse of power and quite likely unconstitutional. This reaches far, far beyond going to a single company with a warrant for a specific situation. This is regulating private business for the benefit of the federal government — and making business bear the cost.

      • Found an article on it. The one you provided was demanding that I register. I don’t, as a rule, do that, so I never see those articles. After having read the information, I would have to agree that it seems to be a bad idea. Mainly because it is unlikely this access point will remain in government hands.

        Looking at it from the perspective of a mandate, though, I was trying to figure out what the difference was between specifying that a software company build their products a specific way, and specifying a soft drink company include or remove specific ingredients. Seems like the FDA controls what we can eat, and the FCC controls our media access. Doesn’t the government already provide mandates to private sector companies? They regulate food, firearms, alcohol, tobacco, drugs, chemicals, fuel, transportation. How is that different than telling a software company they have to provide an entry point for the FBI? (I’m not arguing here – I don’t really care that much as I mentioned, but I am curious).

        Also, I should note, a lot of software companies do this already. If you want to sell your software to the government, or a government agency, they require it. If you are a private company that works for the government, you may also be required to run software that meets their standards. Those standards permit them to audit communications at any time.

        There is a benefit for them NOT doing this. If they leave things as they are, then they can always identify the criminals by the devices they are using. They’ll be the ones using the devices that have encryption and no government access point. The ones who know about it anyway. Your average thug or drug dealer probably won’t know or care. But the government isn’t interested in the average thug or drug dealer, they want the terrorists. And the terrorists will know.

        • Oh damn, sorry ’bout that. It should work now.

          Anyway, yes, the government regulates all sorts of products and services, but supposedly it’s done for the public’s benefit, safety, etc., not to benefit the government. If a company wants to contract with the government, then yes, they have to adhere to government specifications. I may be splitting hairs, but it seems to me there’s a difference.

  3. Since I often use PGP when communicating by email with my brothers and close friends, I guess I’m automatically a criminal. Abraham Lincoln would have had us jailed if he’d known about some of the seditious (sounding) things we discuss. We know that “Congress Shall Pass No Law”, but we also know that congress is filled with liars, cheats, swindlers and murderers who don’t care a fig about the constitution. One of the benefits of using PGP and other OpenSource software is that its developers know we have freedom of speech whether congress likes it or agrees with it or not.

    Not to put too fine a point on it, but a major characteristic of Unalienable Rights is that they are not alienable. They can’t be stolen, sold, bought or even given away. Not with your signature at the bottom of a form with the word “Waiver” in the title, or by the presidents signature on the last page of something congress labeled an “Act.” Otherwise, the terrorists have already won.

    • Looking at writerdood’s last paragraph, I’m now wondering if your use of PGP hasn’t landed you on some government watch list. (“This guy’s encrypting all his communications. What’s he trying to hide?”)

      Just kidding … or not …

  4. Thinking that me and millions of other people – by doing nothing more than peacefully going about our harmless business – in private – have so frightened the most powerful nation on Earth that it is devoting legislation and vast appropriations to circumvent its constitutional authority reveals that it is little more than an insecure coward who can only bully powerless countries and citizens who lack the influence of politics and wealth.

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