It's Back: FBI Announcing Desire To Wiretap The Internet

from the but-do-they-really-need-it? dept

Last fall it came out that the feds were going to push for a law that would require wiretap backdoors in all forms of internet communications. As many people pointed out at the time, there are all sorts of reasons why this is a very bad idea, starting with the fact that putting such backdoors into all forms of communication will certainly lead to them being abused. And, when we say "abused," we don't just mean by the feds -- who have a long history of illegally abusing surveillance powers -- but by others as well. If the feds really think that only they will have true access to these backdoors, they're a lot more naive than we thought. This is a catastrophe in waiting.

Either way, it appears that the geniuses over at the Justice Department and the FBI don't seem to care. Despite plenty of people raising these concerns, it's still going forward with a push for such laws. The plan that will be pushed would require any technology provider to offer up a way for law enforcement to spy on "Web-based e-mail, social networking sites, and peer-to-peer communications technology." Of course, the feds already have subpoena powers to get email and social networking info, when appropriate. And, as Kevin Bankston points out in the article linked above, the FBI demanded and received wiretapping abilities over such things a few years ago -- but hasn't explained why that wasn't sufficient. Either way, it's the P2P part that's really questionable, because basically they're asking for a way to wiretap encrypted voice systems like Skype.

What's stunning to me is that the feds don't even seem to consider the inevitable unintended consequences of forcing such wiretapping backdoors into these forms of communications. Such backdoors will almost certainly be hacked by those with malicious intent. If the feds thought Wikileaks and groups like Anonymous were troubling now, just wait until they can also record and listen to a growing number of voice calls.

And, for those who support these kinds of wiretaps, claiming that without them the FBI will "have no way to know" what these people are talking about, that's a bogus complaint. There are all sorts of other ways to figure out what people are doing. It's called basic detective work, and it's what our law enforcement folks are supposed to be doing. Just because it sometimes takes work is no reason to throw our basic privacy rights out the window.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 17th, 2011 @ 7:52am

    Are they still trying to catch a real criminal? Or are they just going after those who expose their own crimes.

     

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  2.  
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    Greevar (profile), Feb 17th, 2011 @ 7:53am

    Thinking about all possible points of failure?

    You do realize this is the US government we're talking about here, right?

     

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  3.  
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    John Doe, Feb 17th, 2011 @ 8:08am

    The other unintended consequence will be...

    The other unintended consequence will be encrypted communications. The technology is already there to encrypt your email, chat, etc so this will just push that technology to the forefront. When that happens it won't matter if the feds are tapped in, because they won't be able to decipher the messages anyway.

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 17th, 2011 @ 8:16am

    Re: The other unintended consequence will be...

    They will if they mandate that all encryption techniques must have a backdoor. If you use an encryption technique that they do not approve of, you are terrorist/pirate/child abuser/all of the above, and must go to jail.

    After all, WDYHTH (what do you have to hide), right? Am I right?

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 17th, 2011 @ 8:19am

    Welcome to the "Slam the Government" week on Techdirt.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 17th, 2011 @ 8:21am

    What I see happening: anybody who has a reason to hide their communications will just encrypt them. Good luck "wiretapping" (spying) on that! Everybody else will be at the mercy of script kiddies the world over. I think this is just a plan from the MAFIAA to make the internet less useful... but it won't work.

     

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  7.  
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    DannyB (profile), Feb 17th, 2011 @ 8:23am

    One man's catastrophe is another man's bonanza

    > If the feds really think that only they will
    > have true access to these backdoors, they're
    > a lot more naive than we thought.
    > This is a catastrophe in waiting.


    Catastrophe? I'm sure Anonymous, Wikileaks, and others would disagree.

    They might see these secret FIB back doors as "more transparency in government".

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
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    btrussell (profile), Feb 17th, 2011 @ 8:23am

    Re:

    Actually, if you read the memo, it is slam the shill/troll week.

    BAM! POW! Whack! Thud!

    Thank-you for playing. Please come again.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
    identicon
    art guerrilla, Feb 17th, 2011 @ 8:24am

    either The They are stupid, or we are...

    hint: it ain't Them.

    in nearly all of these decisions, there is a fork in the road:
    one unmarked, overgrown footpath is to benefit the 90% at the bottom of the food chain...
    one lighted, paved superhighway is to benefit the Korporatocracy, perpetuate their stranglehold of power, and keep us li'l peeps ignorant and powerless...

    which road is taken 90%+ of the time ? ? ?

    now, do you REALLY think the preponderance of 'our' (sic) leaders do NOT understand the implications of all these evil decisions ? ? ?
    are The They REALLY that stoopid they don't see how it punishes us all ?
    how it contravenes constitutional intentions ?
    how they are advancing totalitarian authoritarianism and not freedom ?
    do you REALLY think it is because they didn't have someone smart or observant enough (you know, like all us brainiacs online who have figured this shit out) around them to rescue them from their mistaken intentions ? ? ?
    REALLY ? ? ?

    no, they do fucked up, anti-citizen, inhumane shit BECAUSE that is the way The They want it...
    it doesn't matter if you even have a few principled representatives who think otherwise (do we even have a few anymore?); it doesn't matter if there are reps who truly are ignorant *and* stupid *and/or* inhumane monsters; it doesn't matter because the WHOLE SYSTEM is set up to perpetuate the Korporatocracy's agenda...

    we are powerless against the infinitely rich, immortal, immoral monsters known as korporations...

    laws/policies/etc do not come into being because it is 'rational', 'fair', 'humane', or constitutes the greatest good for the greatest number...

    wake up sheeple, it isn't because they are uninformed (though they may very well be), it isn't because they are stupid (though that may be), it isn't because they just didn't know (though that may be the case), these evil, anti-people decisions happen BECAUSE THAT IS THEY WAY THEY WANT IT, regardless of what 90-99% of want...

    democracy ? here ?
    what a fucking joke...

    time to walk like an egyptian...
    (the new home of the brave)

    art guerrilla
    aka ann archy
    artguerrilla@windstream.net
    eof

     

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  10.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 17th, 2011 @ 8:25am

    Re: Re:

    Call me when it slam the kool aid drinkers week, and I'll answer you :)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
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    Rez (profile), Feb 17th, 2011 @ 8:30am

    Perhaps the people pushing this are all of a special breed of human that lacks critical thinking, but they seem to have forgotten that a hardware based backdoor into any system will eventually open up government agencies to back door attacks too. Sure, you can spy on my facebook account, good job. But now any other country can as well, and while they are at it they can view FBI and other government department data at will since they exploited the backdoors that the FBI demanded be installed. I'm betting the IT security personnel they have don't get consulted very often before they come up with this stupid shit.

     

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  12.  
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    Hephaestus (profile), Feb 17th, 2011 @ 8:35am

    Re: Re: The other unintended consequence will be...

    "After all, WDYHTH (what do you have to hide), right? Am I right?"

    You are totally correct from the governments point of view. Somehow, I am sure this view is going to change the day the USTR, RIAA, MPAA's, an entire lobbying firms, entire dataset gets dumped to a leaks site.

     

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  13.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 17th, 2011 @ 8:38am

    Re:

    Or when they are being consulted they ignore the advice that they don't want to hear.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 17th, 2011 @ 8:39am

    Re:

    Exactly. This move will have the exact opposite effect. Instead of increasing "national security" it will actually expose people (and more importantly, sensitive government/medical/whatever infrastructures) to more danger.

    And don't think that keeping the backdoor secret will help, because hackers have ways to figure these things out and plenty of time to do so. After all, hackers did break HDCP and the PS3.

     

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  15.  
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    John Doe, Feb 17th, 2011 @ 8:40am

    Re: Re: The other unintended consequence will be...

    You are correct, from a government stand point they will label you public enemy number 1. But there are many open source encryption techniques that they will not be able to backdoor and those are the ones people will use.

     

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  16.  
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    indieThing (profile), Feb 17th, 2011 @ 8:45am

    An economic knock on ?

    If this goes ahead, then I know that as a UK citizen, I'll be very careful about buying and using American software in the future.

     

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  17.  
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    xenomancer (profile), Feb 17th, 2011 @ 8:47am

    Re: Re: Re: The other unintended consequence will be...

    "the day the USTR, RIAA, MPAA's, an entire lobbying firms, entire dataset gets dumped to a leaks site."

    That day can't come soon enough. The big question will be who does the leak, Anonymous or some arrestable middleman.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 17th, 2011 @ 8:48am

    from the dumb jokes dept.

    Here's one for you:

    How do you wiretap a wireless network?

     

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  19.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 17th, 2011 @ 8:49am

    Re: An economic knock on ?

    It won't be the software you will have to worry about. It will be surfing in the US network that will be a problem.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
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    freak (profile), Feb 17th, 2011 @ 9:28am

    Re: Re: Re: The other unintended consequence will be...

    I doubt people will use them if it is declared illegal to use un-approved encryption techniques.

    After all, why risk getting jailed over securely swapping photos of cats?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 17th, 2011 @ 9:38am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: The other unintended consequence will be...

    The laws don't apply to big corporations like they do everyone else. These back doors will only apply to the poor and the oppressed, not the oppressive corporations that control the government.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
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    Josh in CharlotteNC (profile), Feb 17th, 2011 @ 9:45am

    Re:

    Perhaps the people pushing this are all of a special breed of human that lacks critical thinking,

    Those types aren't special, they're the norm.

    So many problems could be solved in a generation if real critical thinking was taught to kids at a very young age.

    But of course that won't happen. Every entrenched interest from religions, the military, political parties, and corporations depend on most people not questioning what they say and blindly accepting authority.

     

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  23.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 17th, 2011 @ 9:47am

    The return of Clipper chip

    This has been tried before.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clipper_chip

    I include here by reference all the arguments ever made against the Clipper chip, and all the explanations as to why it would not work.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 17th, 2011 @ 9:56am

    Re:

    Oh i thought it was while you are distracted with Egypt, your government sneeks in shady legislation week.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 17th, 2011 @ 9:57am

    Re:

    Oh i thought it was while you are distracted with Egypt, your government sneeks in shady legislation week.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 17th, 2011 @ 10:10am

    Better option- Mass Retirement for the under-technology savvy.

    It's always easier to keep the old farts on-board than it is to re-train them.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 17th, 2011 @ 10:13am

    Re: Better option- Mass Retirement for the under-technology savvy.

    Let me re-clarify.

    It's easier to change the laws, trample on civil rights, and raise taxes for the next generation than it is to ask thousands of dead weight FBI folks to retire.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 17th, 2011 @ 10:42am

    This would be a disaster for U.S. business. Every sector touched by a computer would be potentially impacted.

    This would be a disaster for the U.S. economy. Why buy anything American if you can't ensure the security of data transfer?

    This would be a disaster in pretty much every scope of the implementation, which is why I think even if passed it would quickly die a rapid death as people begin to realize how dangerous a hole like this is for their safety.

     

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  29.  
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    BongoBern (profile), Feb 17th, 2011 @ 10:51am

    It sounds like the "back door" thing is more dangerous than the threat.

     

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  30.  
    identicon
    Carl, Feb 17th, 2011 @ 11:13am

    Jurisdiction?

    So will this apply to all data that passes through their jurisdiction or just data starting or ending in their area of authority? This could be a massive opportunity for clever people outside the US to provide routes around the world that guarantee they do not touch US jurisdiction.

    It will, of course, also severely limit the US's ability to do business with anyone outside the US, and effect the sales of all US developed software. Or maybe they'll be an install option, "tick this checkobox if you are outside the US and do not wish to share your entire life with a foreign secret police, who have no jurisdiction over you."

    ho hum and I thought the UK were bad lol

     

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  31.  
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    Miff (profile), Feb 17th, 2011 @ 11:25am

    The USG assumes that encryption software is a black box. That is, that I can't just get myself a copy of some open-source encryption software and manually remove out the keys, or, even better, use the keys I removed to eavesdrop on anyone else using the same software.

     

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  32.  
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    Richard (profile), Feb 17th, 2011 @ 11:39am

    Re: Re: The other unintended consequence will be...

    They will if they mandate that all encryption techniques must have a backdoor.

    and in a related development King Cnut could hold back the tides.

    There are already plenty of encryption technologies out there that don't have a backdoor- plus those developed outside US jurisdiction. How do they propose to stop people using those?

     

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  33.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 17th, 2011 @ 12:55pm

    Dammit FBI, don't you remember the CIA's point about the potential international security threat of laws like HADOPI which encourage more encryption?

    The seeds are already out there:
    http://enigmail.mozdev.org/
    http://www.cypherpunks.ca/otr/
    http://zfoneproject.com/
    http: //www.truecrypt.org/

    Hell, you should know better:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TrueCrypt#Operation_Satyagraha

    Think of the children! Oh god, think of the children!

     

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  34.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 17th, 2011 @ 1:03pm

    Look up CALEA Compliance... it's pretty much already there.

     

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  35.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 17th, 2011 @ 1:28pm

    Re:

    Welcome to TAM's "I never have anything substantial to contribute" decade.

     

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  36.  
    identicon
    TSO, Feb 17th, 2011 @ 1:29pm

    > FBI Announcing Desire To Wiretap The Internet Huh? Desire?? What happened to Echelon?

     

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  37.  
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    androidhelpersdotcom (profile), Feb 17th, 2011 @ 1:44pm

    Thankyou VPN!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  38.  
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    Adam, Feb 17th, 2011 @ 3:12pm

    basic detective work

    While I agree that requiring backdoor functionality is a terrible idea, the 'do basic detective work instead of listening in' argument is moot: in order to apply to a court to get a wiretap, law enforcement is already required to demonstrate why other investigative resources (i.e., basic detective work) have already failed or are likely to fail.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  39.  
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    btrussell (profile), Feb 17th, 2011 @ 4:34pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    I prefer whiskey.

    But in this case, I will consider the children, and call you when they are slammin' back the kool-aid.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  40.  
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    BearGriz72 (profile), Feb 17th, 2011 @ 6:02pm

    Re: Re:

    Whack-a-TROLL?

     

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  41.  
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    DV Henkel-Wallace (profile), Feb 17th, 2011 @ 7:28pm

    Back door exploits certain?

    Such backdoors will almost certainly be hacked by those with malicious intent.
    Is it really so likely? CALEA put back doors into phone switches and I only know of one exploit (Greece) in 16 years.

    Don't interpret this as supporting these kinds of things -- I certainly don't. I just don't know how prevalent surreptitious use of these back doors is (not surprising because it's surreptitious).

    Scope creep is the real problem (e.g. all the the warrantless wiretapping that's happened) but unfortunately that is not an effective argument to use against wiretap supporters.

     

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  42.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 18th, 2011 @ 5:54am

    Re:

    Just the ones in stripey shirts carrying a crowbar and swagbag.

     

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  43.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 18th, 2011 @ 6:00am

    Re:

    Ooooh the poor liddle gubermint! There, there lickle gubermint, don't listen to the nasty man. Shoo you nasty man! SHOO!!!

    There now, the nasty man's gone away. It's ok now poor lickle gubermint *gently strokes governments head*

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  44.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 21st, 2011 @ 6:20am

    Re: Re: The other unintended consequence will be...

    The problem with that, is the US is not the world. What's to stop an email hosting company based out of somewhere in Europe from putting up an ad supported free email hosting service much like gmail or hotmail that doesn't have these backdoors? And because *their* laws don't restrict US citizens from using their service, what's to force any US citizen to use a service with a known backdoor?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  45.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 6th, 2012 @ 7:26pm

    Re: Thinking about all possible points of failure?

    Well, at least they won't leave copies of all your data on the train, even if that is only because they wouldn't be on one.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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