A New York Times article from earlier this week about the FBI's attempt to expand the scope of the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) and the subsequent response to it from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) should raise alarm bells for anyone that does anything on the Internet. The NYT report says that President Obama is on the verge of backing new proposals (tentatively being called CALEA II) put forth by the FBI that would force telephone companies to provide a backdoor to enable court ordered spying on a variety of communication technologies that could include just about anything.
Some examples of this: communications within games, conversations via Xbox Live and PlayStation Network (including video and voice from Kinect – which Microsoft is going to require in order to use the Xbox One) , conversations across Google +, and more. Any place you can imagine that enables you to talk with other people on the Internet, basically.
In its response to the NYT report, the EFF says that this proposal would be a tremendous blow to security and privacy, it would stifle innovation because it requires engineers to build backdoors into any new technology, it could include provisions to fine technology companies that do not comply, it would make technologies more vulnerable to hackers because a backdoor is already built in and ready to be exploited, and it would further strip Americans of their right to private communications.
We would simply point out that the Department of Justice has proven that they will bend the truth to get a court order to gather the information they want (the scandals surrounding the wiretapping/information gathering of the Associated Press and a Fox News reporter related to Administration leaks are two recent examples).
Here's just some of what the EFF has to say about it (and believe me, they have a lot to say):
"The rumored proposal is a tremendous blow to security and privacy and is based on the FBI's complaint that it is 'Going Dark,' or unable to listen in on Internet users' communications. But the FBI has offered few concrete examples and no significant numbers of situations where it has been stymied by communications technology like encryption. To the contrary, with the growth of digital communications, the FBI has an unprecedented level of access to our communications and personal data; access which it regularly uses. In an age where the government claims to want to beef up Internet security, any backdoors into our communications makes our infrastructure weaker."
The EFF closes its response to this proposal by saying that it should be shelved immediately because there is little evidence that the FBI needs these expanded powers.
"The government should place any proposal to expand CALEA on hold. There is little evidence the FBI is actually “going dark,” especially when balanced with all the new information they have access to about our communications. And backdoors make everyone weaker. In a time when 'cybersecurity' is supposed to be a top priority in Washington, the FBI is pushing a scheme that directly undermines everyone's online security and interferes with both innovation and the freedom of users to choose the technologies that best protect them. Tell the White House now to stop the proposal in its tracks."
You can read their detailed list of reasons for why this proposal from the FBI is bad news for everyone here.
We think it needs to be shelved because it provides a foothold into our private communications that could be expanded and combined with other schemes cooked up by the government including copyright infringement enforcement.