The FBI insists that it needs trapdoors to get into all social media sites. The goal, we are told, is to track terrorists.
The current law allows this for all telecommunications carriers. But it does not apply to the Internet. The FBI want to close this loophole.
The problem, the FBI says, is that it is hard for them to conduct wiretaps.
The FBI general counsel’s office has drafted a proposed law that the bureau claims is the best solution: requiring that social-networking Web sites and providers of VoIP, instant messaging, and Web e-mail alter their code to ensure their products are wiretap-friendly.
“If you create a service, product, or app that allows a user to communicate, you get the privilege of adding that extra coding,” an industry representative who has reviewed the FBI’s draft legislation told CNET. The requirements apply only if a threshold of a certain number of users is exceeded, according to a second industry representative briefed on it.
This pressuring of the Federal Communications Commission has been going on for over a year.
In February 2011, CNET was the first to report that then-FBI general counsel Valerie Caproni was planning to warn Congress of what the bureau calls its “Going Dark” problem, meaning that its surveillance capabilities may diminish as technology advances. Caproni singled out “Web-based e-mail, social-networking sites, and peer-to-peer communications” as problems that have left the FBI “increasingly unable” to conduct the same kind of wiretapping it could in the past.
In addition to the FBI’s legislative proposal, there are indications that the Federal Communications Commission is considering reinterpreting CALEA to demand that products that allow video or voice chat over the Internet — from Skype to Google Hangouts to Xbox Live — include surveillance backdoors to help the FBI with its “Going Dark” program. CALEA applies to technologies that are a “substantial replacement” for the telephone system.
It began at least seven years ago. So far, the FBI has gotten nowhere.
But the White House, perhaps less inclined than the bureau to initiate what would likely be a bruising privacy battle, has not sent the FBI’s CALEA amendments to Capitol Hill, even though they were expected last year. (A representative for Sen. Patrick Leahy, head of the Judiciary committee and original author of CALEA, said today that “we have not seen any proposals from the administration.”)
CNET contacted the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security. Both failed to respond.
The reason the FBI wants Congress to pass a law and the President to sign it is because the FCC has dragged its feet. Usually, the FBI bypasses Congress. It just goes to the FCC.
As CNET was the first to report in 2003, representatives of the FBI’s Electronic Surveillance Technology Section in Chantilly, Va., began quietly lobbying the FCC to force broadband providers to provide more-efficient, standardized surveillance facilities. The FCC approved that requirement a year later, sweeping in Internet phone companies that tie into the existing telecommunications system. It was upheld in 2006 by a federal appeals court.
But the FCC never granted the FBI’s request to rewrite CALEA to cover instant messaging and VoIP programs that are not “managed”–meaning peer-to-peer programs like Apple’s Facetime, iChat/AIM, Gmail’s video chat, and Xbox Live’s in-game chat that do not use the public telephone network.