Thursday, November 15, 2012
More Web Surveillance for Government Officials – Where Do We Draw the Line?
The FBI is renewing its request to update and broaden the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), a law initially intended for surveillance of digital telephone networks. The FBI wishes to make the Internet more conducive to wiretapping. If passed, this could lead to less privacy and less security for users.
CALEA was first passed by Congress in 1994, forcing phone companies to rearrange their network architectures to make wiretapping easier. Then in 2005, the FCC announced an expansion of CALEA to include Internet broadband providers and certain VoIP providers.
According to CNET, in May, the FBI requested expansion of this law to include built-in “back doors” for various Internet services, such as e-mail, instant messaging, and social media sites for government surveillance. The FBI also asked that Internet companies not oppose such an amendment. However, the FBI has not been specific in stating how government surveillance is made more difficult by not having easier access to wireless connections, encryption, or social networks.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) , a group that opposes this proposed expansion of CALEA, suggests that law enforcement agencies can already access information on the Internet. Also, by having the existing ability to tap cell phones, law enforcement officials already have access to digital data such as e-mails, and locations based off of cell phone signals. Furthermore, Internet companies are already cooperative with law enforcement officials. So why does the FBI wish to make such surveillance even easier?
Doing so would put many values and rights at risk. In looking to amend CALEA, Congress needs to make sure that this expansion would not infringe upon the Fourth Amendment or due process rights of individuals. Furthermore, granting the government easier access to personal data on the Internet would likely provide easier access to hackers and identity thieves. Also, according to the EFF, this type of expansion could lead to limited creativity among programmers and Internet companies who would have to always keep government surveillance at the forefront of their minds.
Furthermore, the EFF makes a great point that CALEA was never intended to provide such surveillance over Internet data. Phone networks are closed systems, whereas the Internet is a wide, open global network. The FCC’s expansion to broadband networks should be enough. This is where we should draw the line in maintaining as much privacy as possible on the Internet.
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