Thursday, November 18, 2010

FBI pressuring Google, Facebook to allow ‘back doors’ for wiretapping

ACLU: Proposed expansion of wiretap powers 'a clear recipe for abuse'

FBI Director Robert Mueller traveled to Silicon Valley this week to convince major Internet players to build "back doors" into their software that will allow law enforcement to wiretap data on their networks, says a news report.

It's part of an effort to expand the FBI's wiretapping powers to include the latest communications technologies, including social networking sites, voice-over-Internet (VoIP) telephone services and BlackBerries.

But privacy and civil rights advocates are raising the alarm about the proposal, saying that the proposed wiretapping tools could just as easily be used by hackers to steal personal information, or by oppressive governments to track political dissidents.

The New York Times reported Wednesday that Mueller is on a lobbying trip in Silicon Valley to sell tech companies on the idea.

Mr. Mueller and the F.B.I.’s general counsel, Valerie Caproni, were scheduled to meet with senior managers of several major companies, including Google and Facebook, according to several people familiar with the discussions. How Mr. Mueller’s proposal was received was not clear.

“I can confirm that F.B.I. Director Robert Mueller is visiting Facebook during his trip to Silicon Valley,” said Andrew Noyes, Facebook’s public policy manager. Michael Kortan, an F.B.I. spokesman, acknowledged the meetings but did not elaborate.

The Obama administration plans to introduce the new law -- an update to the 1994 Communications Assistance to Law Enforcement Act -- next year.

The current law mandates that phone companies have to be ready to wiretap a customer if law enforcement requests it, but supporters of the new law say that's no longer good enough. The FBI says its ability to wiretap is "going dark" because people are increasingly using encrypted communications tools, such as Skype and the BlackBerry. The new law would require companies such as these to install "back door" access to their communications.

That's raising the alarm among privacy advocates who say the same tool that lets the FBI snoop on communications can be exploited by hackers for criminal purposes.

“Building backdoors in software to help the FBI wiretap will attract hackers who want to do the same thing – access confidential communications,” Gregory Nojeim, a lawyer at the Center for Democracy and Technology, told SC Magazine.

"It is important to realize that this proposal isn’t simply applying the same sort of wiretap system we have for phones to the Internet; it would require reconfiguring and changing the nature of the Internet," Laura Murphy of the ACLU's legislative office said in a statement.


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