Obama Adminstration: Broaden Wiretapping Online

The Obama administration is working on a proposal that would make it easier for law enforcement and security officials to eavesdrop on online chatter, including email, instant messaging, and social networks, reported The New York Times on Sept. 27. The proposed legislation will likely come before Congress next year.

The White House-sponsored bill would require all Internet-based communication services to be technically capable of complying with a federal wiretap order. This includes being able to intercept and unscramble encrypted messages, said the Times. It will give the government the ability to listen in on literally every communication anyone makes online.

While the officials working on the proposal do not yet agree on how to define what constitutes a communications service provider, encrypted e-mail transmitters such as the BlackBerry, social networking sites such as Facebook, and peer-to-peer messaging software such as Skype will likely be included. The Obama administration prefers the broadest definition, which would include companies whose servers are operated outside of the United States, such as Canadian-based Research in Motion, maker of BlackBerry smartphones.

Under current rules, investigators can intercept messages at the network company’s switch. If the user is using a service that encrypts the messages between the computer and the servers, investigators have to go to the communications service provider to view the unscrambled content. While some service providers have the capability to intercept these messages, most do not. According to the Times report, many providers wait until they are served with wiretap orders before developing intercept capabilities.

However, some services, like peer-to-peer instant messaging software, encrypt messages between users, so even the provider cannot unscramble them. The proposed legislation will require these programs to be redesigned so that they can be unscrambled.

For more, read the eWeek article Obama Wants to Wiretap the Internet.

CIO Insight Staff
CIO Insight Staff
CIO Insight offers thought leadership and best practices in the IT security and management industry while providing expert recommendations on software solutions for IT leaders. It is the trusted resource for security professionals who need network monitoring technology and solutions to maintain regulatory compliance for their teams and organizations.

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