FBI eyes back doors for cyber surveillance

The FBI has reportedly asked a number of Internet companies for their tacit support of a controversial proposal that would require firms like Facebook to code back doors for government surveillance.

According to a report on CNET, senior FBI officials have expressed concern that a “dramatic shift” in communication from telephones to the Internet has made it far more difficult to wiretap Americans suspected of illegal activities.

“(There are) significant challenges posed to the FBI in the accomplishment of our diverse mission. These include those that result from the advent of rapidly changing technology,” an FBI rep explained.

“A growing gap exists between the statutory authority of law enforcement to intercept electronic communications pursuant to court order and our practical ability to intercept those communications. [We] believe that if this gap continues to grow, there is a very real risk of the government ‘going dark,’ resulting in an increased risk to national security and public safety.”

As such, the Bureau’s general counsel has drafted legislation that, if implemented, would force social networking sites and VoIP services to design wiretap-friendly platforms. 

Essentially, the draft legislation seeks to redefine the parameters of the 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), which requires telecommunications providers to make their systems wiretap-friendly. Although the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) extended CALEA in 2004 to apply to broadband providers like ISPs and colleges, web companies remained exempt.

Unsurprisingly, a number of industry heavyweights and privacy advocates oppose the above-mentioned legislation, with Jennifer Lynch of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) telling CNET she “worries about government mandating backdoors into these kinds of communications.”

Meanwhile, industry groups such as TechAmerica, which represents companies like HP, eBay, IBM, Qualcomm, has also expressed reservations, noting that such a law would: “represent a sea change in government surveillance law, imposing significant compliance costs on both traditional (think local exchange carriers) and nontraditional (think social media) communications companies.”