Under current US law, all telcos are forced to keep the capability to let the government spy on you. But with blazing advances in what telcos offer, the government is left behind. They want to catch up. Their solution? Tougher law.
A governmental taskforce made up officials from the US Justice and Commerce Departments, FBI and intelligence community all say it's time to beef up the original 1994 law that mandated fed-friendly backdoors for every telco. And now that the government wants even greater access, a decade-and-a-half-old law isn't quite cutting it for them anymore. The problem? Telcos are offering more and more sophisticated services (good for us!), which means service interruptions and impaired spying capabilities (bad for the government, and maybe good for terrorists depending on your view of things!) Telco companies are already pissed - a more powerful wiretap law would slow down things on their end, they say: "The government's answer is ‘don't deploy the new services - wait until the government catches up'. But that's not how it works. Too many services develop too quickly, and there are just too many players in this now," explained a frustrated telco lawyer.
But this goes beyond telco woes. According to the Times, current service outages have prevented the execution of perfectly legal court-ordered wiretappings. This goes beyond terror hype - the inability to tap a phone makes it harder to bust domestic criminals, ranging from drug dealers to white collar fraudsters. But the government is straddling a tricky line here - asking for vast new powers to listen to us in private should come with guarantees that this power won't be misused; an assurance that's lacking. If the White House wants to crack into our Gmail and keep telcos from upgrading, it's going to be a tough sell. [NYT]