FBI to Make Net-tapping Easier

Steve Javors
WASHINGTON — Seeking to expand the 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, which allows government law enforcement agencies to access online data in an effort to investigate criminal activity, the FBI has drafted new legislation that would allow for easier surveillance.

According to CNET News, FBI Agent Barry Smith unveiled the proposal at a closed-door meeting and indicated Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, would introduce the bill.

The proposed legislation would require Internet service providers and networking gear manufacturers to make their networks and hardware more conducive to wiretapping from law enforcement.

The FBI claims the updated bill is necessary because as technology has evolved, criminals have gotten smarter and savier, so the wording in the bill needs to be updated to protect against new threats from criminals and terrorists using new technology.

“The complexity and variety of communications technologies have dramatically increased in recent years, and the lawful intercept capabilities of the federal, state and local law enforcement community have been under continual stress, and in many cases have decreased or become impossible,” according to a summary of the draft bill, obtained by CNET News.

Specifically, the bill would require all routing and addressing hardware to have a built-in “backdoor” that allows for Internet wiretapping, expand wiretapping provisions to include commercial Internet services like instant messaging, force ISPs to identify VoIP calls and eliminate a legal requirement that compells the Justice Department to publish a public notice about its wiretapping activities.

This latest push for wiretapping Internet usage and records of ordinary Americans is a bold stroke by the Bush administration, which is in hot water over the National Security Administration’s logging of millions of phone records.

“People expect their information to be private unless the government meets certain legal standards,” Cato Institute Policy Analyst Jim Harper told CNET News. “Right now the Department of Justice is pushing the wrong way on all this. [The draft bill] would have a negative impact on Internet users’ privacy.”

The draft bill would legalize the FBI’s net-surveillance attempts, which is currently under a legal challenge from universities, telecommunications firms and nonprofit organizations. The groups claim it’s too expensive to retrofit their networks to comply with the legislation and the new law is a violation of privacy rights.

A three-judge panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals refused to overturn the Internet surveillance regulations that were adopted by the Federal Communications Commission. The court found this extension of CALEA did in fact apply to broadband providers. The new rules are slated to go into effect in April 2007.

“The FCC simply does not have the statutory authority to extend the 1994 law for the telephone system to the 21st century Internet,” said Marc Rotenberg, director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

If the FBI’s proposed legislation becomes law, it would spoil the lawsuit because the new regulations would apply to the Internet and all broadband providers.