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An Associated Press release http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100927/ap_on_hi_te/us_internet_wiretaps today indicates that the Obama administration is drafting legislation that would require companies to make it technically possible to intercept all electronic communications in the US. This would affect all of the US telephone companies, Skype, and also companies, such a RIM (Blackberry) that are based outside of the US.
According to the report the administration claims this is not about grabbing new authority, but rather making all forms of electronic communication essentially the same as the old fashioned telephone system when it comes to ease of interception.
There are definitely strong privacy concerns, but you have to remember that the US congress already abolished the right to privacy when Democrats and Republicans joined forces to grant the telephone companies retroactive immunity after they gave the NSA illegal access to the phone calls of millions of Americans.
If this legislation is approved, it will increase the use of encryption by many of the people the law enforcement and spy agencies want to monitor. For the average low tech crook this probably will result in several arrests and these are generally people without a clue about technology. The tech savvy cybercriminals will find ways to avoid effective surveillance.
There is absolutely no doubt that the legislation would be abused by the government, regardless of which party is in power, to monitor the legitimate activities of activists that the government does not like. Expect Watergate-like abuses as well.
Finally, this also means that cybercriminals will be able to exploit the technologies as well. Don’t expect that the ability to intercept communications will be unhackable, it will be and it will be done if the legislation is approved and enacted.
Director of Technical Education
Author ESET Research, ESET