Feds Float Idea of Internet ‘Wiretap Tax’

A bold proposal from the FBI would mandate that popular Internet products like Facebook or Twitter build in secret surveillance back doors that only the Feds have access too. More […]

A bold proposal from the FBI would mandate that popular Internet products like Facebook or Twitter build in secret surveillance back doors that only the Feds have access too.

More serious: the proposal wouldn’t just stop at Facebook or Twitter or just “popular” Internet services, it would extend to ANY Internet-based produce or service that traffic in data of any kind.

The proposal, dubbed “CALEA II” by privacy advocates opposing the move, has been in the works for years; however, the Justice Department has been reluctant to unveil the nefarious proposal for fear of the inevitable public backlash.

“A wiretapping mandate is a vulnerability mandate,” said Joe Hall, Senior Staff Technologist for the Center for Democracy and Technology, a Washington-based public interest group.  “The unintended consequences of this proposal are profound,” Hall said.  “At the very time when the nation is concerned about cybersecurity, the FBI proposal has the potential to make our communications less secure. Once you build a wiretap capability into products and services, the bad guys will find a way to use it.”

CDT President Leslie Harris bluntly stated:

This is essentially a ‘wiretap tax’ that will stunt innovation.

According to a story in the Washington Post, the FBI wouldn’t mandate a specific type of wiretap backdoor, leaving that decision up to the hardware and software designers.  However, should a product or service try to end run the requirement, the FBI would be allowed to levy fines for non-compliance that are so punishing they would cripple innovation.

“No one is going to want to face fines that double every day,” Harris said, “so they will go to the FBI and work it out in advance, diverting resources, slowing innovation, and resulting in less secure products.”
“The sad irony,” said Hall, “is that this is likely to be ineffective. Building a communications tool today is a homework project for undergraduates. So much is based on open source and can be readily customized. Criminals and other bad actors will simply use homemade communication services based offshore, making them even harder to monitor.”

 

 

About brock

Brock is currently the Executive Editor at Atlantic Media Strategies and former Chief Washington Correspondent for MSNBC; he is the founder/creator/editor of CyberWire Dispatch, the Net's pioneering online journalistic news service. Previously he was the Director of Communications for the Center for Democracy & Technology, a non-profit, Washington, D.C.-based public interest group working to keep the Internet open, innovative and free. The views expressed here are his alone and do not reflect the opinions, attitudes or policy positions of his employer(s) past or present.