IETF weighing new wiretapping standards

The ad hoc group that manages the operation and future development of the Internet today will consider the adoption of new standards to make it easier for the FBI and law enforcement agencies worldwide to eavesdrop on the world's fastest growing communications medium.

The Internet Engineering Task Force will consider adopting wiretap standards for all Internet technical protocols at a meeting in Reston, Va. Such a move has been sharply criticized by heavyweights from the computer and telecommunications industries in a letter to the IETF secretariat. The meeting is expected to last late into the night.

Dave Banisar, an attorney with the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said the FBI has spearheaded adoption of the wiretap standards with the tacit approval of "a number of IETF members who work for the phone companies."

The open letter to the IETF secretariat said the proposed new protocols would not only make wiretapping by police agencies easier but also would "result in more illegal activities [such as hacking], diminish users' privacy, stifle innovation, impose significant costs on developers of communications" and diminish security overall. The letter was signed by, among others, William Schrader, chairman of PSINet Inc.—one of the largest Internet backbone providers in the nation.

The letter added that the new surveillance protocols "would provide little or no real benefit for law enforcement."

Banisar predicted that adoption of the protocols would be defeated at this meeting of what amounts to the Internet's governing body, but he added he expected the FBI to continue to push for the ability to eavesdrop on the Internet "because they love to wiretap."

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