DOJ Wants To Be Able To Fine Tech Companies Who Don't Let It Wiretap Your Communications

from the no-that-won't-be-absued-at-all dept

We’ve talked a lot about how the Justice Department (DOJ), mainly via the FBI, has been pushing for years to change the laws in order to require tech companies to build wiretapping backdoors into any and every form of communication online. As we’ve explained over and over again, this is a really silly proposal, that won’t make us any safer. Instead, it’s likely to make us a lot less secure, because those backdoors will be abused, not just by law enforcement, but by those with malicious intent who will work hard to find the backdoors and make use of them.

The latest proposal on this front is equally ridiculous. While it wouldn’t dictate specific wiretapping/backdoor standards, it would require that companies make some sort of backdoor available or face rapidly escalating fines.

Under the draft proposal, a court could levy a series of escalating fines, starting at tens of thousands of dollars, on firms that fail to comply with wiretap orders, according to persons who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. A company that does not comply with an order within a certain period would face an automatic judicial inquiry, which could lead to fines. After 90 days, fines that remain unpaid would double daily.

This would be a disaster for innovative companies and for public security and privacy as well. The DOJ really needs to learn that not everything must be tappable. As it stands now, if I just sit on a park bench talking to someone, the DOJ can’t tap it. Sometimes law enforcement doesn’t get the right to hear everything I have to say. That’s the nature of freedom and privacy protection that we’re supposed to believe in. I’m sure with the news that chat apps are now more popular than SMS worldwide, law enforcement folks think that they need to “do something” to make sure they can spy on those conversations, but that’s not true. Yes, it may make their job harder at times, but in a free country, the focus should be on protecting the freedom of the people, not decimating it to make the job of law enforcement easier. Those who commit crimes leave other clues beyond their communications online. Tapping such communications will lead to a massive security risk and huge expense for many innovative companies (likely slowing down the pace of innovation in that space). Is that worth it just so the DOJ can spy on what you have to say? That seems doubtful.

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Comments on “DOJ Wants To Be Able To Fine Tech Companies Who Don't Let It Wiretap Your Communications”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

In that case USA has never truely been a free country. Politicians will say that they need a way to show their ability to act on unwanted behaviour. The easiest and cheapest way to do that is through surveillance.

I live in Denmark, the least corrupt country in the world, they say. I see a lot of corruption! Not as in direct bribes, but several statutory abuses, nepotism, discrimination, “revolving door” issues, insider trading and especially controversial gift-giving and other “conflicts of interest” are everyday occurances! The medias knowledge of these issues is despite the openness of governance is the second-worst in europe according to experts (Vatican State is the only one worse)…

The ideals are great, but getting there is very difficult. No county is even close to the ideals on negative or positive personal freedom, lack of surveillance and lack of corruption. Realism says that USA is doing relatively well on most of these measures compared to the rest of the world, but it is still hell of a long way from ideal.

In the case of increased surveillance, it is also costly on positive personal freedoms and will worsen corruption, while bettering the negative personal freedoms (At least ideally!). As mentioned it is costing on 3 of the freedoms to increase the negative freedom and is probably a net loss for the ideals, but for politicians, the right to get good press is threatened and therefore they have to act.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: What about private mail servers?

I’m guessing it won’t. However, it does raise a related question: what is a “private mail server”?

I run my own private mail server. I also have provided accounts for a handful of friends on my mail server. Is it still “private”? What if I give email accounts to everyone in my local maker’s club? Is it still private? I would say yes (as it’s invite-only, like a private club), but I have no idea how the law would view it.

Zimzat (profile) says:

Re: What about private mail servers?

If they’re hosting it on a shared server, or even a Virtual or Dedicated server, the authorities will just go after the host. It’s pretty well documented that the government doesn’t consider these private servers.

If they own the server and keep it in their domicile (house, apartment, etc) then the authorities will go to the uplink provider and routers to trace it en-route. It’s not like email magically appears on the recipient server without going through the same network as all other traffic (man-in-the-middle attack).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: What about private mail servers?

There are ways for dedicated server customers to keep this from being a problem and hosting providers, while they may easily cave to government pressure, when it is present, they usually don’t care what the customer hosts and how it is setup as long as it is not affecting others and they don’t have to support it. The fact that they can’t access it to monitor what is going on is really of no consequence to them beforehand.

Ed Allen (profile) says:

Re: What about private mail servers?

You still have a choice, cooperate or hold out till everything you own is taken as “fines”. Totally your choice.

Assume the first day the doubling starts you face $10,000.00 and then after holding out two weeks you face $163,840,000.00

So cooperation or bankruptsy. Your choice.

Most ISPs will help them extract whatever they want about as many customers as they want.

Anonymous Coward says:

what the hell is the USA turning into? every day there is a new proposal that makes spying on ordinary people easier! every day there is another piece of freedom taken away! every day another bill is enacted so law enforcement agencies can do something else to undermine the very principles that the USA was founded on. doesn’t anyone want to know what is going on? doesn’t anyone wonder who is actually behind all this shit? there has to be some real powerful people who have a great deal more power than those who think they are in charge; than those who are supposed to be in control; people who answer to no one! i wonder how much longer it will be before they destroy everything?

blah says:

Re: Response to: Adam Bell on Apr 29th, 2013 @ 3:07pm

To be fair the is a very large and vocal number of people who stand by the second amendment in the USA, many of who do not know enough about tech to see how their freedom’s are being violated when it comes to the first and fourth. Actually that is the problem that the usa has in general, we simply do not understand tech in general and so bad laws are made about it. Add that many of the people who fight for the second(and many other) tend to fall for nationalistic fear mongering and they loose sight of what is happening to the other amendments, and then wonder why our government is over stepping it bounds. They forget that you can’t say the law should be one way for that there terroist but not for me. For fucks sake we are selling bullet proof backpacks here despite the fact that those that can afford them are more likely to lose their teenagers to congenial defects or cancer(some of the lowest ranked cuase of death for teenagers). (Yes homicide is the number two killer but out side of high crime areas it drops to insignificance).

Anonymous Coward says:


there must be a law putting the costing of all provided wiretaps by a company into the balance sheet (with a breakdown by warrant, warrantless, & exposure to potential privacy liabilities, as it appears wiretapping will continue to be an expanding burden on the bottom line and impact on shareholder returns. there are important reasons investors & regulators need timely, transparent and honest corporate reporting.

Deimal (profile) says:

In the WP article, at the very end, you’ll find these statements:

Thomas said officials need to strike a balance between the needs of law enforcement and those of the technology companies.

?You want to give law enforcement the ability to have the data they?re legally entitled to get, at the same time not burdening industry and not opening up security holes,? he said.

I bolded the part that I shouldn’t be sickened by, but am. I want to yell at this fucker and tell him he’s leaving out a really big critically important part of the balancing, and that’s the GODDAMNED PRIVACY OF CITIZENS. It’s really disgusting that this gets so fucking lost.

I want some damned statistics that show how many crimes they solve prevent SOLELY because of all this data that they gather. The assumption that I currently run with is pretty close to fucking zero (except where they exploit people and push them into crimes they would never commit on their own). It sure seems like most crimes nowadays are still solved the old-fashioned way. WORKING IT.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Response to: Deimal on Apr 29th, 2013 @ 3:50pm

Well a thriving secure economy improves the life of citizens the most so that means keep the corporations happy and making as much money as possible at all costs so they stick around and you get the most happy secure citizens right? I didn’t make any leaps in logic at all there, completely logical.

Someone just shoot me it would be less painful then watching this republic turn into a capitalistic feudalism, or what ever you want to call corporate supported oligarchy.

FM Hilton (profile) says:

Just a bit more money, and yes, they can.

So now the FBI wants to blackmail these companies into breaking the law, huh?

Who’d thunk it?

First, they tell us “We’re from the government and we’re here to help you” and now it’s “We’re from the government and we’re here to help ourselves to whatever privacy you don’t have. Thanks in advance for your passwords!”

Then we wonder if Google is in league with the NSA. Seems pretty obvious by now, doesn’t it?

The government wants to own your soul, and the corporations that willingly give them all the data they want without any protest.

Sounds like “1984” and “Fahrenheit 451” combined. A very, very bad movie and worse in real life.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Might we instead start fining the DoJ until such time they remember the J stands for Justice and they stop behaving like a bunch of idiots?

I do not think they know what the word means, and the definition they are using is appalling.

No ‘evidence’ of wrongdoing on Wall Street, but they steal evidence in violation of another countries law.
Aaron Swartz needed to be punished for what he did, but there is no time to pursue wrongdoing in their own offices.
The seize property and mislead the courts about their actions, only to flail when caught lying and return the property after the damage has been done.

Anonymous Coward says:


Mega has the right idea: architect its service such that it is impossible for them to violate the user’s privacy (they are not there yet, but once their API is opened up to third party clients such that they cannot be forced to serve up malicious Javascript, they will be there).

Another option is software distributed as source code where privacy is enforced at the ends (early example: PGP). Good luck adding backdoors to that without being caught.

Anonymous Coward says:

Yes, it may make their job harder at times, but in a free country, the focus should be on protecting the freedom of the people, not decimating it to make the job of law enforcement easier.

Since Wickard v. Filburn and the abrogation of the Tenth Amendment to the Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution.

It has been the Federal Governments job to take away our liberties.

We no longer live in a free country.

Anonymous Coward says:

Just what is the U.S. Government trying to do? Force its people to revolt? If this weren’t such a serious issue, I’d swear that this is a plot to some Hollywood movie.

By continuing to invade the privacy of its citizens, the U.S. government is going to end up with the American People saying “enough is enough” and they’re going to respond in a very violent way.

Our country has seen repeated attempts by repressive governments trying to take too much control from its people. The American Revolutionary War began because Great Britain kept taxing the American Colonies without giving them a voice in the government, which led to the birth of a new nation, The United States of America. We’ve suffered through the American Civil War which was started because the U.S. Government decided to free all slaves and the southern states did not like that.

Now, as usual, the U.S. government is trying to impose new laws on its people where no communication, private or otherwise, is safe, while receiving a blank pass from the courts to do this.

OH, and President Obama’s Department of Justice is pushing for this new BS. Everyone who voted for Obama, what do you have to say now? You voted for Obama and now he wants to take away your constitutional rights to privacy.

The Real Michael says:

Re: Re:

“OH, and President Obama’s Department of Justice is pushing for this new BS. Everyone who voted for Obama, what do you have to say now? You voted for Obama and now he wants to take away your constitutional rights to privacy.”

I’m convinced that it doesn’t matter who the current president is, nor his political affiliation — he’s merely a public spokesperson, subservient to corporate-political interests working behind the scenes.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Everyone who voted for Obama, what do you have to say now? You voted for Obama and now he wants to take away your constitutional rights to privacy.

Right, because the alternatives were so much better. /sarc

This is not a problem with Obama in particular. Obama is proving himself to be the corporatist that he obviously was from the start. There’s no surprise there. The problem is twofold: it is greater than the executive branch (so the choice of president only has a limited effect), and every presidential candidate was deeply and powerfully flawed.

Anonymous Coward says:

Don't want to but have to...

Yes, it may make their job harder at times, but in a free country, the focus should be on protecting the freedom of the people, not decimating it to make the job of law enforcement easier.

Personal peeve: Decimating = Removing 1 in 10 (from the practice of Roman Legions punishing its soldiers or enemies by killing 1 man in 10)

Devastating is the adjective needed, though I suppose by killing 10% of the population would make their jobs easier 🙂

special-interesting (profile) says:

Back doors are a juvenile exercise in worthless security. Yeah. We spent 12 million developing the best security in the world… so lets toss it out in favor of the back door. Looking for the back door of any system is like the #1 way to crack a system. And. Thats even when its only a guess its there. If we know they are there in the first place… Worthless security.

12 year olds make back doors in code that are very clever and use the best encryption. Another 12 year old in another country exploits it using several means. Then its a free for all for the obvious reason that when any one or anyone in government can abuse/use/take-advantage of any person/group/firm/nation… its a given thing.

Any arguments that this ill begotten proposal by the DoJ is going to provide more secure environments is just wrong. Way off base. Its irrational and not even a real argument at all. It will provide less security and more vulnerability for ALL parties. (get that?) This is another classless idea born of lazy bureaucracy.

Furthermore. Such lines of thinking only erode the real freedoms and the culture and society supported by constitutional Rights but does not help the relationship between the citizens and government.

No… wait! Thats gotta be wrong; The DoJ has Another plan to drive business overseas. Thats right them stinking capitalists are making money and paying taxes! The nerve of them. (been said before)

Ultimately it starting to look like Americans have forgotten history to such an extent. We grasp for concepts to explain general privacy and freedom rights and the average citizen understands none of it. When convenient, even irrational, profit or power oriented special interest lobbying excuses overcome real reason and wisdom… Much, if not all, is lost.

If freedom of expression is not allowed then a constricted society with neutered culture is the result. Constricted societies have a natural resistance the is expressed in the way drug use goes up when it becomes illegal. The only thing healthy about it is the doubt shown towards government. Culture becomes neutered when the exchange of ideas are cut off. (what an awesome pun. No pun intended!)

Societies self implode all the time. The world is littered with the ruins of lost, advanced in their day, civilizations. Selfishness, shortsightedness or just being the normal fools and idiots we are (most of the time? Am sure its just me). Possibly we need more choices and not less. Its the only way to level up our cultural IQ.

What do people thing when voting for the average Dem or Repub the two default choices often with no contenders. Just mentioning the ‘two party’ system brings up visions of control and limiting of choices. When it comes down to it… two choices is just as confusing as 10 or more.

Ultimately. Will our future generations remember American Culture as one of complete freedom and uninhibited expression? Or that we gave it all away in exchange for an buzzing/stinging wasp colony based society? Most likely the queen wasp would remove or revise history to make them look so cool.

Since freedom of expression is one of the base building blocks of American culture its hard to see it slip away by some silly Executive branch proposal. Again. Culture is being destroyed, or at least threatened, by current legislators and bureaucracy. Its kind of painful to see it happening.

SailingCyclops (profile) says:

This is another waste of resources

The FBI thinks it can wiretap everything simply by strong-arming ISPs into providing “back door” access to all communications. But not all communications which transit an ISP is subject to an ISP back door. Email secured by third party certs like Comodo, Globalsign, SwissSign, …. etc are not vulnerable to any ISP back doors, nor to FBI authority. Files attached and encrypted by a whole host of encryption schemes like PGP/GPG and TrueCrypt are likewise not vulnerable.

So, the FBI’s push for these back doors will have no effect on those who want to keep their communications secret from the FBI. It will only be a privacy intrusion to those who have no want or need for privacy.

From a law enforcement perspective, this push by the FBI is a useless waste of effort and resources. I thought the FBI had graduated from being “Fabulous But Incompetent”. Criminals have, and will continue to have, access to secured communications via existing Internet infrastructure. That genie is out of the bottle, and can’t be put back in. What the FBI is thinking here is beyond me. Perhaps I am missing something?

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