FBI asking for even easier ways to monitor internet users

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.

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