By Sara Yin
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is pushing for a law that would force social networks, email providers, and other peer-to-peer services to become “wiretap-friendly” according to a CNET report.
Such legislation would expand an existing federal law that applies to cell phone operators and broadband networks. Under 1994′s Communications Assistance to Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), carriers and broadband networks must have built-in backdoors giving law enforcement agencies direct access to user data during warranted investigations. CALEA began with carriers in 1994 and expanded to broadband providers in 2004. At the moment, Internet companies use their own slurping methods to provide user data to law enforcement during search warrants.
But now that the means of communications are shifting once again, the FBI wants to extend CALEA to Internet companies like Twitter, Microsoft, Yahoo, Facebook, and Google. The FBI is also seeking to expand CALEA to cover instant messaging services like Apple iChat, AOL Instant Messanger, Gmail Chat—even Xbox Live’s in-game chat. Most companies were unavailable for comment, but a spokesperson at Microsoft-owned Skype told Security Watch it hadn’t heard of such murmurings on Capitol Hill: “To our knowledge, we have not seen a legislative proposal this session from either the Administration or on the Hill that would change the scope of the existing law.”
According to CNET, the FBI has been meeting with Internet companies, senators, and the White House to urge them not to oppose legislation that would permit this. The proposed legislation has already been approved by the Department of Justice and would need to overcome a tough battle in Congress.
The FBI also wants these companies to provide the tools to easily decode data obtained through surveillance. Something like this could make it easier for government forensics agents to, say, crack an Android pin-lock. Furthermore many companies, such as BlackBerry and Skype, encrypt users’ messages.
In March, Microsoft’s controversial application for a “legal intercept” was approved. As we reported earlier, in 2009 Skype filed a patent for software that would let someone surreptitiously record a call on a VoIP network; Microsoft rationalized the patent as a way to answer to government requests for surveillance and wiretapping. Google, Twitter, and Facebook also regularly field a vast amount of government subpoenas for user data.
FBI’s “Going Dark” Problem
Expanding CALEA would help the FBI with its “Going Dark” problem, a phenomenon coined by FBI director Richard Mueller to describe the agency’s shrinking power to monitor Americans, as communications technologies shift once again. A January report from Citigroup found that text messaging is on the decline as users embracee free messaging clients like WhatsApp and Skype, or simply communicated through Facebook and Twitter.
Watch what you type! Surveillance cameras so strong they can zoom in to read text messages
Surveillance cameras are now so powerful they are able to zoom in and read your text messages – leading to fears of further privacy intrusion by a ‘Big Brother’ style state.
As well as being advanced enough to close in on an individual’s phone screen, security cameras will soon be able to pick up on raised voices and sniff out drugs too.
The revelations were made at a privacy conference in Wellington, New Zealand, where it was also disclosed that the average person is digitally recorded about a dozen times a day.
Worrying: Surveillance cameras are now so powerful they can zoom in to see what people are texting
During last year’s Rugby World Cup in New Zealand CCTV cameras focused in on the crowd of thousands to read the text message someone was sending.
As part of extensive police monitoring during the tournament, camera operators scanned the spectators looking for suspicious looking packages and aggressive behaviour.
They then chose to zoom in on one man who was texting – although it turned out he was simply writing about the poor quality of the rugby match.
Experts warned the fact that the cameras were able to do this raises concerns about breeches of individual’s privacy.
Watch out: Technological advances mean cameras will soon be able to pick up on raised voices and detect smells too
Civil liberties lawyer Michael Bott described the pervasiveness of surveillance as ‘worrying’ and warned of the extent people’s private lives were being intruded upon.
‘It’s quite worrying when we, by default, move to some sort of Orwellian 1984 where the state or Big Brother watches your every move,’ he said.
‘The road to hell is paved with good intentions and we don’t realise what we are giving up when we give the state the power to monitor our private lives.’
However, others argued the camera’s ability to zoom in on texts would be helpful in preventing crimes, including rioting.
The conference also discussed how technological developments meant that soon cameras will be able to pick up on raised voices and sniffing devices will be able to detect drug residue.
Of course, the number of surveillance cameras drastically varies from place to place with exact figures hard to pin down.
Cameras are commonplace on streets, public transport, shopping malls, hospitals and public buildings.
In the decade after the 9/11 attacks the amount of surveillance cameras across the U.S soared by about 30 million.
And figures showed the number of cameras in some areas of Manhattan increased by more than 400 per cent between 1998 and 2005.
Across the pond, Britain is notorious for the high amount of cameras it has with an estimated 2 million across the country.