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FBI's Latest Proposal for a Wiretap-Ready Internet Should Be Trashed

May 10, 2013 in Economics

By Julian Sanchez

Julian Sanchez

The FBI has some strange ideas about how to “update” federal surveillance laws: They’re calling for legislation to penalize online services that provide users with too much security.

I’m not kidding. The proposal was revealed in The Washington Post last week — and a couple days ago, a front-page story in The New York Times reported the Obama administration is preparing to back it.

Why? Federal law enforcement agencies like the FBI have long feared their wiretap capabilities would begin “going dark” as criminals and terrorists — along with ordinary citizens — shift from telephone networks, which are required to be wiretap-ready under the 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), to the dizzying array of online communications platforms available today.

While it’s not yet clear how dire the going-dark scenario really is, the statutory “cure” proposed by the FBI — with fines starting at $25,000 a day for companies that aren’t wiretap capable — would surely be worse than the disease.

Instead of being decided by what’s best for the vast majority of users, communications architectures would be determined by what makes things easiest for law enforcement to wiretap.”

The FBI’s misguided proposal would impose costly burdens on thousands of companies (and threaten to entirely kill those whose business model centers on providing highly secure encrypted communications), while making cloud solutions less attractive to businesses and users. It would aid totalitarian governments eager to spy on their citizens while distorting business decisions about software design. Perhaps worst of all, it would treat millions of law-abiding users with legitimate security needs as presumed criminals — while doing little to hamper actual criminals.

It Stifles Innovation

The FBI’s plan would effectively make an entire category of emerging secure platforms — such as the encrypted voice app Silent Circle or the Dropbox-like cloud storage service Spider Oak — illegal overnight. Such services protect user confidentiality by ensuring that not even the company’s employees can access sensitive data; only the end users retain the encryption keys needed to unlock their content.

This is hugely attractive for users who might otherwise be wary about relying on cloud services — whether they’re businesses negotiating multi-million dollar mergers, lawyers and therapists handling confidential documents, activists in authoritarian states, or just couples looking to back up their newborn photos.

But if the FBI gets its way, companies won’t be able to adopt that “end to end” encryption model, or offer their users the security …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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