Förderverein Informationstechnik und Gesellschaft

Will FBI Decide Internet Configuration?

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March 16, 2004

Will FBI Decide Internet Configuration?

posted by Dan Gillmor 08:56 AM permanent link to this item

# Washington Post: Easier Internet Wiretaps Sought. The Justice Department wants to significantly expand the government's ability to monitor online traffic, proposing that providers of high-speed Internet service should be forced to grant easier access for FBI wiretaps and other electronic surveillance, according to documents and government officials. A petition filed this week with the Federal Communications Commission also suggests that consumers should be required to foot the bill.

Civil liberties groups are calling this request "breathtaking," and that's no exaggeration. What's on the table here is not just the most wide-ranging surveillance capabilities in communications history, but also a fundamental attack on liberty itself.

Among the most important things to understand about this proposal is its back-door attack on encryption, the technology that lets you communicate without snoops, public or private, capturing everything you say. This question was settled, we thought, years ago -- with the value of encryption plainly overriding the problems it creates for law enforcement.

But that was before people really started using the Net to communicate in more traditional ways, such as with Voice over IP. VoIP is just an application that converts analog voice to digital data, which then gets sent in little packages over various routes to its destination, where the packets are reassembled and converted back to analog voice. Now it's relatively simple to make such calls secure: add an encryption layer. This is what at least one VoIP provider does now, and if mine doesn't start doing it soon I'll consider switching services.

The government can't "tap" those calls unless it can decrypt the data. And if it demands the right to be able to do this, then encryption itself is dead for you and me. If we have to hand over our keys to the government, liberty itself will take another hit.