Digital Wiretaps Recall Big Brother

By Cindy Waxer September 27, 2010

Don’t count on encryption to keep your BlackBerry messages private. If the Obama administration gets its way, U.S. intelligence services might just be able to eavesdrop on the Internet, including your email exchanges and Facebook ramblings.

That’s according to a recent New York Times article which reported that the federal government is drafting legislation to make it easier for U.S. intelligence services to eavesdrop on the Internet. The White House intends to submit a bill before Congress next year that would require all online services that enable communications to be technically capable of complying with a wiretap order, including being able to intercept and unscramble encrypted messages, the Times reported.

The services would include encrypted email transmitters like BlackBerry, social networking websites like Facebook and peer-to-peer messaging software like Skype. The administration plans to submit the plan next year, the newspaper said, quoting the FBI's general counsel, Valerie Caproni, as saying that it's not talking about expanding its authority but “about preserving our ability to execute our existing authority in order to protect the public safety and national security.”

Privacy advocates might accuse federal law enforcement and natural security officials who are seeking these new regulations as acting as Big Brother. But authorities argue that it’s a necessary precaution as more and more terrorists and criminals communicate over the Internet rather than via telephone. “We're talking about lawfully authorized intercepts,” said Caproni. “We're not talking expanding authority. We're talking about preserving our ability to execute our existing authority in order to protect the public safety and national security.”

The White House plans to submit the proposed legislation to Congress next year. In the meantime, authorities from the White House, Justice Department, National Security Agency, FBI and other agencies have been meeting in recent months to craft the proposals, the Times said.

Edited by Erin Harrison

TechZone360 Contributing Editor

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