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  • Jeff Marker


    husband, dad, teacher, filmmaker, writer, film geek, musician, DIYer, vegetarian, Bulldog, Buckeye, Nighthawk

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FBI Hopes to Expand “Going Dark” Program

The FBI claims it has a problem. More and more communication is being conducted in ways that aren’t as easy to wiretap as phones: VoIP, online chats, video game social rooms, Second Life, etc. They call this loss of access to communication “going dark,” and they launched a program in 2010 to curtail it (at least, the program was first included in the federal budget in 2010). Now, they are asking congress for permission to force all Web-based communication programs to build in trap doors through which the FBI could gain access to text versions of all communications.

This is not a new idea; they apparently tried to force these backdoors in the mid-90s. Security experts headed off those efforts then by making the completely valid point that building in such access weakens the security of the Internet in general. This is a broad concern among security experts and surveillance watchdogs, by the way. Each time surveillance tactics create access for law enforcement, national security, or commercial agencies, they open up more opportunities for our national enemies and criminals to gain access, too.

Beyond asking for permission to expand the program, the FBI is also asking for additional funding. The Going Dark program alone cost $233.9 million last year, and expanding it will surely raise that number. Given the relatively easy renewal of the controversial Patriot Act provisions, there doesn’t seem to be much chance congress will say no.

Ryan Singel wrote an excellent article for Wired about all this, which I encourage you to read. One passage in particular stood out. FBI general counsel Valerie Caproni testified that “new ways of communicating online could cause problems for law enforcement officials.” Singel makes a great point, though: “Caproni argued that law enforcement officials are occasionally running into cases where criminals are using online communication tools that aren’t wiretappable in real-time, because the provider had not built-in that capability. Caproni did not mention that the FBI has not encountered a single case of encryption hampering its criminal investigations for the past four years, according to reports to Congress, nor that the FBI has never run into a single case over the last 10 years where it could not get the plaintext of a target’s communications.”

The attitude is the same as what we saw in those CCTV articles I posted last week: the actual statistics show no need for increased surveillance, but the mere existence of a possible threat is used as the key evidence in the argument.

(By the way, the brilliant pic above came from vivapixel.com)

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2 Responses

  1. Lure me in with a funny picture then force me to learn something I don’t want to know. That format may work for your movie reviews, but it is downright mean in this context.
    🙂

  2. Sorry about that. What I’m doing with this site is totally self-serving, so I should probably avoid fooling the few people who actually read it. ha ha (But seriously, thanks for reading.)

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