The FBI wants more power. That’s not any particular kind of surprising, since the FBI always wants more power, but this push is notable for what’s it’s after: real-time spy privileges for online communication.
Right now, US government agencies can force ISPs and phone companies in the US to install surveillance gear in their networks thanks to a law passsed in 1994 called the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act. But that doesn’t include access to email, cloud services or chat programs, and because of how some services like Google Talk are set up, many can’t be accessed network-side anyway. FBI general counsel Andrew Weissmann said in a talk to the American Bar Association last week that the intelligence community has made getting the power to monitor those types of services in real time a “top priority this year”.
For now, the FBI can only access archives of people’s email and transcripts, as per the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. But, as Slate points out, that’s not the only empowerment the FBI already has here:
Authorities can use a “Title III” order under the “Wiretap Act” to ask email and online chat providers furnish the government with “technical assistance necessary to accomplish the interception.” However, the FBI claims this is not sufficient because mandating that providers help with “technical assistance” is not the same thing as forcing them to “effectuate” a wiretap.
You can see both sides of this thing. On one hand, yes, authorities absolutely need the tools and lateral ability to work with the way people communicate now. On the other hand, man, that’s a lot of power to cede, especially if it ends up being regulated more loosely than traditional wiretaps, which are already questionable. [Slate]
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