Telecommunications Policy

FBI Pushes Legislation to Make It Easier to Wiretap the Web

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The FBI wants web developers to build fed-friendly backdoors in all their applications in order to make domestic spying easier, reports CNET's Declan McCullagh:

In meetings with industry representatives, the White House, and U.S. senators, senior FBI officials argue the dramatic shift in communication from the telephone system to the Internet has made it far more difficult for agents to wiretap Americans suspected of illegal activities, CNET has learned.

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," a person 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 person briefed on it.

The FBI's proposal would amend a 1994 law, called the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, or CALEA, that currently applies only to telecommunications providers, not Web companies. The Federal Communications Commission extended CALEA in 2004 to apply to broadband networks.

The FBI has been campaigning for a while to make the Internet more friendly to federal eavesdroppers, warning of what it calls the "Going Dark" problem, which refers to the increasing difficulty the agency is having intercepting and surveilling Web-based communications. Some folks, I think it's safe to say, would not refer to this as a problem.