Big Brother wants to surf the Net with you

Obama administration seeks to expand wiretapping capabilities to online electronic communications

The Obama administration is poised to ask for new Internet regulations that could potentially open any and all electronic communication to scrutiny.

The proposed changes pertain to the technological capabilities of online communications providers.

"Essentially, officials want Congress to require all services that enable communications — including encrypted e-mail transmitters like BlackBerry, social networking Web sites like Facebook and software that allows direct 'peer-to-peer' messaging like Skype  — to be technically capable of complying if served with a wiretap order," according to a New York Times report. "The mandate would include being able to intercept and unscramble encrypted messages."

James Dempsey, vice president of the Center for Democracy and Technology, expressed serious reservations about the plan. In earlier testimony regarding the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, Dempsey told Congress that technology is outpacing legal protectons that seek to balance the individual's right to privacy, the government's need for tools to conduct investigations, and the interest of service providers in clarity and customer trust.

"The personal and economic benefits of technological development should not come at the price of privacy," he said in that testimony. "In the absence of judicial protections, it is time for Congress to respond, as it has in the past, to afford adequate privacy protections, while preserving law enforcement tools and providing clarity to service providers."

Regarding the administration's planned legislation, Dempsey told the Times: "They basically want to turn back the clock and make Internet services function the way that the telephone system used to function.”

An FBI spokeswoman said the effort is aimed at providing tools for interceptions of communications that are already legal under the current law. “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 spokeswoman said.

About the Author

Technology journalist Michael Hardy is a former FCW editor.

Reader comments

Wed, Oct 6, 2010 lazerlight

The government is way more of a threat than terrorist. How many attacks have we had since 9/11? Even if an event occurred the loss of hundreds of people is small compared to the loss of our freedom!

Mon, Oct 4, 2010

They are tons of wacko's on the net. Many are planning things like what happened in the Oklahoma City bombing. Protection of privacy is important, but not to the detriment of national safety of our country.

Mon, Oct 4, 2010

Why the big stink now? It is illegal to use an encryptation the Government can not break, and under the last administration's Patriot Act" your phone, bank, and internet was already read anyway! So what is different?

Fri, Oct 1, 2010

the contractors supporting the intel community, homeland security, and defense have too many unqualified, low-skilled, and just plain stupid employees working on "catching the bad guys". therefore, their management and those employing them feel it necessary for everyone to open up their houses, bank accounts, medical records, address books, personal and private correspondence, EVERYTHING for inspection on a regular basis so these knuckleheads can try and "connect the dots".... well this silly game of "connecting the dots" should be ended... it is nothing more than a slogan and truly the nation's "myth of sysiphus", it is a "black hole" where money just gets poured down into the hands of the ignorant and incompetent. these people have been and continue to ... "pick grass seed out of horse manure with boxing gloves on their hands" -- insanity and absurdity combined. when is enough enough? this is maddening absurd.

Thu, Sep 30, 2010 Michael Alabama

This certainly can't be constitutional to require service providers to do this. Is the Government going to fund them to do this? If not, then what the Government is saying is "the service you're providing is illegal, and you have to pay to bring it in line, so we can *maybe* monitor what *some* of your customers are doing." What if I develop a new encryption algorithm and software, and I only give the encryption/decryption capabilities to a select group of people, such that we can communicate "securely"? Does that mean I have to include the Government in my circle of friends - so they can decrypt our communications, in case they somehow believe we're doing something interesting? This is a huge, massive, gargantuan, unbelievable invasion of privacy. It's reprehensible. I absolutely believe that law enforcement needs to be able to their job, but not by taking away the constitutional freedoms of every single citizen.

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