This Week in Wiretapping - US

The surveillance community, lead by the FBI, is pursuing legislation to force communications companies to be “wiretap capable”. Non compliance could mean fines as high as US $25000 per day.

This is a salvo specifically targeted at the rise of encryption and secure connectivity. Voice chat applications like Mumble encrypt the digital signal in a end to end fashion, making the platform (barring bugs and proper implementation) bulletproof. Bit torrent apps like Vuze can optionally use RC4 encryption to secure their data flow. Kim Dotcoms Mega uses end to end encryption with Dropbox-like functionality. A combination of VPN and VOIP applications can anonymize phone calls. These are only a few of a near infinite array of applications of privacy and security. From business to industry to webcams and chat, encryption is everywhere to protect users from privacy breaches.

The proposal would have far reaching effects for privacy. It would completely kill the burgeoning privacy community. It would saddle small firms with adding wiretapping functionality to their applications. Then you have to question the firms ability to keep all of their applications wiretapping functions secure from hackers… Tens of thousands of applications, all with custom wiretapping code, there will be bugs and vulnerabilities. You only need to look as far as Java to see that there will be issues. Clearly the user experience in general would be less safe on the internet because of this measure.

You also must question whether the measure would have any real impact on the ability of authorities to intercept data. Anyone that is transmitting illegal or incriminating data is going to have access to encryption technologies, regardless of the law. A tech savvy criminal would have no problem evading the law with these provisions in place.

Authorities site the risk of the “internet going dark” as the motivation for this bill. They fear that without an unlimited ability to surveil the internet, they will miss opportunities to catch terrorists and other cyber-criminals. There is already strong evidence that surveillance is taking place on a massive scale across the internet. From AT&Ts secret immunity to litigation for violating wiretapping laws, to the secret NSA closet for intercepting colossal piles of internet traffic. The power to surveil is already being abused. The need for privacy technologies are already here.

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