March 12, 2004 1:05 PM PST

FBI adds to wiretap wish list

A far-reaching proposal from the FBI, made public Friday, would require all broadband Internet providers, including cable modem and DSL companies, to rewire their networks to support easy wiretapping by police.

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What's new:
A far-reaching FBI proposal would require all broadband Net providers, including cable modem and DSL companies, to rewire their networks to support easy wiretapping by police.

Bottom line:
If approved as drafted, the proposal could dramatically expand the scope of the agency's wiretap powers, raise costs for cable broadband companies and complicate Internet product development.

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The FBI's request to the Federal Communications Commission aims to give police ready access to any form of Internet-based communications. If approved as drafted, the proposal could dramatically expand the scope of the agency's wiretap powers, raise costs for cable broadband companies and complicate Internet product development.

Legal experts said the 85-page filing includes language that could be interpreted as forcing companies to build back doors into everything from instant messaging and voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) programs to Microsoft's Xbox Live game service. The introduction of new services that did not support a back door for police would be outlawed, and companies would be given 15 months to make sure that existing services comply.

"The importance and the urgency of this task cannot be overstated," says the proposal, which is also backed by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Administration. "The ability of federal, state and local law enforcement to carry out critical electronic surveillance is being compromised today."

Because the eavesdropping scheme has the support of the Bush administration, the FCC is expected to take it very seriously. Last month, FCC Chairman Michael Powell stressed that "law enforcement access to IP-enabled communications is essential" and that police must have "access to communications infrastructure they need to protect our nation."

The request from federal police comes almost a year after representatives from the FBI's Electronic Surveillance Technology Section approached the FCC and asked that broadband providers be required to provide more efficient, standardized surveillance facilities. Such new rules were necessary, the FBI argued, because terrorists could otherwise frustrate legitimate wiretaps by placing phone calls over the Internet.

"It is a very big deal and will be very costly for the Internet and the deployment of new technologies," said Stewart Baker, who represents Internet providers as a partner at law firm Steptoe & Johnson. "Law enforcement is very serious about it. There is a lot of emotion behind this. They have stories that they're very convinced about in which they have not achieved access to communications and in which wiretaps have failed."

Broadband in the mix
Broadband providers say the FBI's request would, for the first time, force cable providers that sell broadband to come under the jurisdiction of 1994's Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), which further defined the already existing statutory obligations of telecommunications carriers to help police conduct electronic surveillance. Telephone companies that use their networks to sell broadband have already been following CALEA rules.

"For cable companies, it's all new," said Bill McCloskey, a BellSouth spokesman.

Several cable providers, including Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Cablevision Systems, had no immediate comment on the FBI's request.

The FBI proposal would also force Vonage, 8x8, AT&T and other prominent providers of broadband telephone services to comply with CALEA. Executives from these companies have said in the past that they all intend to comply with any request law enforcement makes, if technically possible.

Broadband phone service providers say they are already creating a code of conduct to cover some of the same issues the FBI is addressing--but on a voluntary basis, according to Jeff Pulver, founder of Free World Dialup. "We have our chance right now to prove to law enforcement that we can do this on a voluntary basis," Pulver said. "If we mandate and make rules, it will just complicate things."

Under CALEA, police must still follow legal procedures when wiretapping Internet communications. Depending on the situation, such wiretaps do not always require court approval, in part because of expanded wiretapping powers put in place by the USA Patriot Act.

A Verizon representative said Friday that the company has already complied with at least one law enforcement request to tap a DSL line.

This week's proposal surprised privacy advocates by reaching beyond broadband providers to target companies that offer communications applications such as instant-messaging clients.

"I don't think it's a reasonable claim," said Marc Rotenberg, director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center. "The FCC should seriously consider where the FBI believes its authority...to regulate new technologies would end. What about Bluetooth and USB?"

Baker agrees that the FBI's proposal means that IP-based services such as chat programs and videoconferencing "that are 'switched' in any fashion would be treated as telephony." If the FCC agrees, Baker said, "you would have to vet your designs with law enforcement before providing your service. There will be a queue. There will be politics involved. It would completely change the way services are introduced on the Internet."

As encryption becomes glued into more and more VoIP and instant-messaging systems like PSST, X-IM and CryptIM, eavesdropping methods like the FBI's Carnivore system (also called DCS1000) become less useful. Both Free World Dialup's Pulver, and Niklas Zennstrom, founder of Skype, said last month that their services currently offer no easy wiretap route for police, because VoIP calls travel along the Internet in tens of thousands of packets, each sometimes taking completely different routes.

Skype has become a hot button in the debate by automatically encrypting all calls that take place through the peer-to-peer voice application.

The origins of this debate date back to when the FBI persuaded Congress to enact the controversial CALEA. Louis Freeh, FBI director at the time, testified in 1994 that emerging technologies such as call forwarding, call waiting and cellular phones had frustrated surveillance efforts.

Congress responded to the FBI's concern by requiring that telecommunications services rewire their networks to provide police with guaranteed access for wiretaps. Legislators also granted the FCC substantial leeway in defining what types of companies must comply. So far, the FCC has interpreted CALEA's wiretap-ready requirements to cover only traditional analog and wireless telephone service, leaving broadband and Internet applications in a regulatory gray area.

Under the FBI's proposal, Internet companies would bear "sole financial responsibility for development and implementation of CALEA solutions" but would be authorized to raise prices to cover their costs.

14 comments

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FBI Surveillance authority.
The FBI does NOT need to spy on law abiding citizens. It is our RIGHT to communicate without John Ashcroft (John the Voyuer) listening in. It is insulting to the first and fourth amendments of the constituiton. The most viLE part of this proposal is that anyone who writes a secure method of communication could be IMPRISONED if they do not give the fbi a key.

EVEN IF I beleived that the FBI had right to this, it would be bad for the security of the protocol. If the FBI had a master key, a hacker could find it. Worse, a haacker could use it as yet one more way to steal your identity and money.
Posted by paulmd199 (17 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Hmmm, outdated whish list
As a remark to the notion of possible requirements
for backdoors in the various internetting softwares.

This is all well and done in proprietary softwares.

But will that mean that all open source software are
to be banned from being used on the internet?

All forms of backdoors etc, are a bit harder to
include in an open source product!

So? Can we expect the feds to back Microsoft and SCO now in their campaign against the viral and damaging open source phenomena?!

Just wondering.........................

Cheers all
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
FBI adds to wiretap wish list
All valid points. I guess the only way to control such power as at two ends.

1: Change your passwords often
2. The backdoor password can only be provided to law enforcement ONLY after a court has ordered it. I think that is how it "should" be working today. The caveat would be, the FCC'd issued password would be valid for a specific set time.

Hey, if Internet community, good and bad and all of those in between, will continualy be changing passwords via password programs and no one will be able to keep up. Then the FCC will ban password generators and encryption all together. The Big Brother mentality won't end unless the Internet community nip in the bud-now.

Is this Freedom of Speech? How hypocritical-we give it to foreigners in Iraq over American soldiers blood, but take it away for our American soldiers once they return to America.

Use your common sense-don't be a drone. Speak Up and Act.

the crack
Posted by (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Insane
*Under the FBI's proposal, Internet companies would bear "sole financial responsibility for development and implementation of CALEA solutions" but would be authorized to raise prices to cover their costs*

This is so ridiculous.
Customers pay for no privacy !
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
transparency works both ways
Notice that this is the same administration that fights
transparency when it comes to them. The energy task force
investigation: stonewalled. The 9-11 investigation: stonewalled.
Who outted Valery Plame? Dunno, no word from the
whitehouse. Somehow they just flout the FOIA when they want
to.

Yet they want to know what we are doing. in detail.

And, in both cases, the justification is the same:
"We know that you are engaging in criminal activity over there,
so we want some visibility". We the people want more visibility
into the whitehouse operations, and the FBI wants more visibility
into our operations.

I'd actually be inclined to go for a trade: tap my broadband, if
activist groups can tap all the government IP pathways. I'll bet
that would clean up a lot of crime and injustice all over.
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
1994
The origins of this debate date back to when the FBI persuaded Congress to enact the controversial CALEA. Louis Freeh, FBI director at the time, testified in 1994 that emerging technologies such as call forwarding, call waiting and cellular phones had frustrated surveillance efforts.

Congress responded to the FBI's concern by requiring that telecommunications services rewire their networks to provide police with guaranteed access for wiretaps. Legislators also granted the FCC substantial leeway in defining what types of companies must comply. So far, the FCC has interpreted CALEA's wiretap-ready requirements to cover only traditional analog and wireless telephone service, leaving broadband and Internet applications in a regulatory gray area.

I wonder if that was before the congress changed hands or after? Hmmmmmmm...
Ya gotta love the political season!
You should worry more about McCain-Feingold.
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
This is NOT right
i understand the point that officals THINK they are saving us BUT this is NOT right. seems i recall when a certain country started to DECIDE what people could do , say or other wise has the united states decided to CONTROL everything now? is there to be no more freedom?
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
So this is the USA's definition of 'Freedom' ?
US policy seems to become more authoritarian and less libertarian on a daily basis. From outside (The UK) it looks like a kind of downward-spiralling paranoia. It seems all foreigners are out to 'get' you and you can't trust your own citizens either (or at least that is the view of your government).

As one of YOUR great thinkers once said 'Liberty is indivisible' and having the State constantly monitoring your every communication does not in my opinion equate with liberty.
In the 1950's, 1960's and through to the 1980's (when 'Communism' fell) it was this aspect of State surveillance and interference in the Eastern Bloc which was most often quoted by the USA as the reason why you were better than 'them'. No more it seems.

I could ramble on but instead I will put my point of view succinctly. You cannot support one liberty by taking away others.
Posted by wittgenfrog (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
The Patriot Act and now this!?
This is getting ridiculous. " Such new rules were necessary, the
FBI argued, because terrorists could otherwise frustrate
legitimate wiretaps by placing phone calls over the Internet."
Ever since 9/11, various government agencies have been using
the fear still residing in US citizens of terrorism to pass laws
which infringe our constitutional rights. Laws which are created
for the sole purpose of pursuing the personal agenda of some
high up government officials. Rather than making me feel more
secure, laws like this are starting to make me scared; scared of
my own government. And that is just wrong.

What was meant to add a sense of security to our citizens is only
making it easier to waste our tax dollars unjustly attacking
United States Citizens who only really are pursuing their God
Given rights to live, liberty and happiness. I fear the worst for
our country should things like this continue to occur. For me,
and avid internet user, this is the last straw. I call upon you all to
do something about this; to get the Patriot Act revoked, and
laws like this shut down.

With what I hope will soon be the end of the current Bush's
position in office, things will hopefully take a turn for the bright
side. Bush has caused nothing but headaches, for our economy,
our allies, and for our citizens. Please, I beg you, PLEASE, take a
look at the big picture, at the significance of what is going on in
our government. I call out especially to my generation, the
students of high school, the future of this nation. Don't let such
blatant infringements of your rights such as this slide by
unnoticed. Do something about it; voice your opinions. Help
guide our country onto the path it has so unrightfully strayed
from. Everything you do to help, no matter how small, makes a
difference.
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Malicious Hackers Rejoice?
Wow, and to think hackers had it good when people weren't /required/ to put security flaws in their communication software.
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
IP wiretapping hotel guest HSIA is not practical
The networking equipment of the average hotel's free to guests high speed Internet access amenity maintains no records of usage or traffic content capture. It also doesn't provide for traffic snooping and recording capability. Additionally, individual user identification using an IP address is often not practical as the guest is likely behind at least one if not two NATs and may not require a logon. Those wanting to avoid big brother just need to go to their local hotel offering free high speed Internet access and not requiring logon authentication. Privacy can be had for the cost of a room.
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
FBI Surveillance Authority?
When will John Ashcroft rename the FBI to the KGB? The longer this so-called Patriot Act goes on, the less freedom private citizens have. Giving the FBI even more ability to monitor private lives without stringent regulation will simply lead to more of their historic privacy abuses.
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
This is definitly not good
First believe that giving any agency absolute power over communication in a country which claims to be free is very contradictory.

More to the point of this article, how hard is it to get around taps. Have both parties understand a few key words, replace one word for another, and hey, there is your message inside of a message. Sounds complex hu. Well, as some of these posts have already stated anyone who would want to bypass these security measures doesn't have to be stupid.

Just a thought, but I feel that spending massive amounts of (our) money on countermeasures just so someone can sidestep them doesn't sound logical.

I wish this country the best of luck before we get in any deeper. We need the support of the people before this government taping gets any worse.

I think the old adage, "absolute power corrupts absolutly" sums it up nicely.
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
FBI wiretap request
no way they should pay just like everyone else and only be use it when to investigate someone for a criminal offence, not just to see what they might or might not be doing.
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
 

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