Tell Me Your Secrets

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.

Randy Abrams
Director of Technical Education
ESET LLC

Author ESET Research, ESET

  • Adam Wilder

    Honestly,  I'd     hope that  such  legislation does  not   pass  as, the  idea  of  privacy  on the net  shall  be greatly  affected  overall.Well,  I've  always  done  my best  to  keep  my privated  data  out  of  dangerous  hands.Now,  this  comes  along?  I  jsut  hope that    such  does not  make  into  law..
     
     
    Adam

  • Charles Jeter

    Face value: this would require a major rewording of the Fourth Amendment in order to bypass the unreasonable search and seizure clause. See notes at the bottom.
    Because of the Obama Administration's previous stance on civil liberties as well as net citizenship I'm betting that this news article is a case similar to the Kill Switch Bill controversy surrounding Joe Lieberman's Senate 3480 resolution: it was leaked or taken out of context and became news-"worthy" because of conjecture.
    Unfortunately without the actual draft of the bill or the bill / act able to be reviewed, there's no way of telling whether or not this is the case. As for the legal standard about electronic discovery which works right now, the layman's guide is simple as well:
    Past communication falls under application for a Search Warrant, jurisdiction rules applied.
    Present / ongoing communication falls under application for a Wire Tap, jurisdiction rules applied.
    One source for this current model is found by Googling the most excellent Susan Brenner and her blog CYB3RCRIM3 – do a quick search for 4th Amendment.
    As noted above, my source for the expectation of privacy today is the definition is found in Wikipedia:
    In United States constitutional law the expectation of privacy is a legal test which is crucial in defining the scope of the applicability of the privacy protections of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The "expectation of privacy," as a legal concept with a precise definition, is found only in U.S. case law. It is related to, but is not the same thing as a right of privacy, a much broader concept which is found in many legal systems (see privacy law).
    There are two types of expectations of privacy:

    A subjective expectation of privacy is an opinion of a person that a certain location or situation is private. These obviously vary greatly from person to person.
    An objective, legitimate or reasonable expectation of privacy is an expectation of privacy generally recognized by society.

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