Facebook, Skype and Blackberry are just a few of the internet sources that could face new requirements, and expenses, if they are forced to assist federal authorities in carrying out wiretaps. A proposal to be presented to congress by the Obama administration early next year would require all internet providers doing business in the United States to add wiretap capability to their systems.
James Dempsey of the Center for Democracy and Technology claims the proposal challenges fundamental elements of the Internet, including its decentralized design.
“They are really asking for the authority to redesign services that take advantage of the unique, and now pervasive, architecture of the Internet…They basically want to turn back the clock and make Internet services function the way that the telephone system used to function.”
Among the principle concerns is encryption. While telephone and broadband is already subject to intercept, many servers encrypt transmissions to protect user privacy. Reconfiguring encryption platforms to allow backdoor wiretapping of unencrypted messages would also, it is feared, open the same back door to hackers. For example, in Greece in 2005, hackers took advantage of a legally mandated wiretap to spy on top officials, including the prime minister.
Professor of Computer Science at Columbia, Steven Bellovin, calls back door wiretap capability “a disaster waiting to happen.”
Proponents of the legislation will also have to determine what to do about out-of-country servers, though they insist the law will not result in Internet filtering similar to that in China and Dubai. Likewise, no answer has been proposed for “freeware” applications put into use by volunteers.
Concerns are being raised about the financial impact on start-ups and the devotion of engineers to back door decryption rather than bringing new opportunities to the Internet. Some companies currently doing business are incapable of decrypting their own encryption methods, potentially requiring entire reconfigurations.
The FBI and the Obama administration are buying none of the criticism and are pressing forward to require increased invasive ability online. More here.
Contributor, aka tidbits. Retired attorney in complex litigation, death penalty defense and constitutional law. Former Nat’l Board Chair: Alzheimer’s Association. Served on multiple political campaigns, including two for U.S. Senator Mark O. Hatfield (R-OR). Contributing author to three legal books and multiple legal publications.