Feds Pushing For New Legally Required Wiretap Backdoor To All Internet Communications

from the unintended-consequences... dept

The unfortunate, if not surprising, news story making the rounds today is that the feds in the US are looking to pass new laws to legally require a wiretap backdoor in every kind of internet communication offering. Yes, you read that right. If there's any way to communicate online, the US government is demanding the right to be able to wiretap it. Any company that doesn't comply will face fines. This despite the long history of the US government massively abusing its wiretapping privileges repeatedly throughout history.

And, yes, this would supposedly apply to non-US communications services as well:
Foreign-based providers that do business inside the United States must install a domestic office capable of performing intercepts.
Yeah, that'll go over well. It's difficult to see how this is any different than foreign governments demanding access to others' communications as well. It's pretty ridiculous for President Obama to talk about open internet principles to the UN, while cooking this up at the same time. Pushing for this also means that the US will have no excuse when the governments of Iran, China and elsewhere also demand backdoors into all US-based communications.

And, really, that's the biggest problem with this law. Beyond the inevitable privacy violations by the feds, putting backdoors into communications technologies guarantees that those backdoors will be used by others (outside of the federal government) to snoop on communications. The FBI and the NSA (who are pushing for this) are being totally and completely naive if they think that they're the only ones who will use this. We've pointed out in the past how large scale surveillance systems mean large scale security risks, and this is no different. We showed how a similar surveillance system in Greece was hacked into to spy on government officials. US officials should be aware that they're opening themselves up to these same potential risks.

And, the simple fact is: this won't help and it won't matter. The people who really want to communicate secretly will still use tools to communicate secretly. The feds are (once again) being naive to think that such tools won't exist and won't be widely known and widely utilized. Instead, all this will do is open up everyone else to abuse of the system by other governments, organized crime, people with malicious intent and (of course) the US government.

Filed Under: encryption, feds, privacy, security, wiretap


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  1. icon
    honza (profile), 27 Sep 2010 @ 2:38pm

    I think that Mike Masnick and also David Sugar made it very clear why living in a surveillance society without any ways how to communicate securely would be a bad thing. So the only question remains - how do we protect ourselves from totalitarian governments (and if that bill is passed I would have to add US government to my list of totalitarian governments) snooping on everything we do online?

    What exactly can US government do to enforce such law?

    1. They can threaten or punish a person or a company producing any technology that allows secure communication (let's call it 'secure technology' for now).

    2. They can block servers hosting secure technology to suppress its distribution.

    3. They can block bank accounts of the person or company providing secure technology or block users from sending money to those accounts to make sure nobody will not be able to profit out of it.

    4. They can make it illegal to use secure technology and punish users.

    5. They can force hardware producers to make sure that it would be technically impossible to use secure technology.

    What did I forget?

    It seems to me that in order to communicate securely, we have to make sure that there is NOT a single point of failure in any of these five things. How?

    1. secure technology should not depend on any single person or company - it should be some open source technology with distributed development model - everybody is fungible, developers live in different countries to minimize the risk, if any developer is removed - the technology survives.

    2. secure technology is distributed from 'distributed source' (bittorrent or something like that). No single server to block.

    3. secure technology is developed for free by idealist freedom-fighters or is financed by some kind of (distributed?) payment channel that is difficult to block/trace.

    4. secure technology is not easy to spot and distinguish from other traffic. No specific port or protocol - just some kind of tunneling or VPN like when you are communicating with your bank or company, or maybe transparent end-to-end encryption - because it would be necessary to make illegal the whole internet to suppress this.
    Secure technology is also easy to use because it needs to be widely adopted - any law is not practically enforceable when it's broken by everybody - that's the best 'security' from the bad law.

    5. well... if any government is able to control hardware production globally - then we are all screwed.


    Please consider this some kind of RFC - I am looking forward to your comments so we would be ready in case US democracy fails ;-)

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