Federal Government Wants Easy Access to Wiretap Internet Communication

The Obama administration has requested new regulations that would permit the obtaining of "wiretaps" for internet communications. The regulations would require that communication providers allow wiretaps of their internet.

"The way we communicate has changed dramatically since 1994, but telecommunications law has not kept up. This gap between reality and the law has created a significant national security and public safety problem," said Valerie E. Caproni, the FBI's General Counsel.

The Department of Justice and the FBI have been working for years to expand their surveillance capabilities to the internet. While technology has changed and most communication equipment no longer uses 'wires' and instead require a computer to 'tap' the contents of phone conversations or emails, the administration's proposal would allow even greater access to decode encrypted communication sent by texting, smart phones, and social networking sites.

The ACLU, which has filed lawsuits on multiple occasions in an attempt to stop the constant expansion of law enforcement into personal, confidential communications, notes that Congress has already given the executive branch virtually unchecked power to conduct dragnet collection of Americans' international e-mails and telephone calls without a warrant or suspicion of any kind under the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 (FAA).

The ACLU sued in 2005 to prevent the Bush administration from using the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), a 1994 law to force the telecommunications providers to design and construct their infrastructure to make wiretapping easier.

Congress had restricted CALEA to traditional telephone companies, and exempted "information services" such as the Internet. The Department of Justice worked to have the FCC rule that CALEA applied to the software created for Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) communications. That decision was upheld in 2006 by the Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit.

Of the most recent proposal, Christopher Calabrese, legislative counsel of the ACLU, said as "Under the guise of a technical fix, the government looks to be taking one more step toward conducting easy dragnet collection of Americans' most private communications. Mandating that all communications software be accessible to the government is a huge privacy invasion. With concern over cybersecurity at an all-time high, this proposal will create even more security risks by mandating that our communications have a 'backdoor' for government use and will make our online interactions even more vulnerable."

This move is troubling, as it continues the Bush policies of ever broader governmental surveillance. In addition to the worrisome elements of government-entities prying into private communications, the requirement of a technical 'backdoor' to allow easy access for law enforcement carries with it the possibility of someone beside the government using the same door.

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