Police state : FCC : Web surveillance


Richard Moore

    On Monday, the clock starts ticking for broadband and
    Net-phone providers to make it easier for law enforcement
    to conduct surveillance on users of their networks.

The key word here is "easier"...

The technology of the Internet involves packets of
readable information, what we might call 'clear-media',
flowing from node to node. Any node can be programmed to
examine or store away any and all data passing through it,
including source and destination addresses.

Most, if not all, data passes through certain 'hub nodes',
making it easy for government agencies to carry out any
surveillance projects. Also, browsers report your net
address and other information to any website you access.

Fundamentally, apart from encryption, the net is about as
private as a CB radio channel. Encryption may hide content
(and it may not from NSA computers), but its use is like a
red flag, proclaiming: Take note of who is exchanging
secrets with whom. In a criminal case this might be the
worst thing you could be charged with: de facto evidence
of conspiracy, plus prosecution claims about what you were
'probably saying'.

If you were to post evidence against yourself on a public
bulletin board (electronic or physical), you could hardly
complain if that evidence was used against you. If you use
the Internet, you are in the same situation with anything
you say, although we may not usually think of it that way.

I said above that the keyword in this latest development
is "easier". It's not that we will be losing privacy we
never had, rather the government is forcing the industry
to begin paying the surveillance overhead costs. In
addition, the government is publicly proclaiming an 
intention to make more widespread use of its surveillance 




Feds' Net-wiretap order set to kick in 

By Anne Broache 

Story last modified Fri Nov 11 12:15:00 PST 2005 

On Monday, the clock starts ticking for broadband and
Net-phone providers to make it easier for law enforcement
to conduct surveillance on users of their networks.

According to a final order issued by the Federal
Communications Commission in late September, all broadband
Internet service providers and many Voice over Internet
Protocol, or VoIP, companies will have 18 months--until
spring 2007--to ensure their systems have backdoors that
allow police to eavesdrop on their customers'
communications for investigative purposes.

The 59-page order (click for PDF) followed years of
pressure from the FBI, the Justice Department and the Drug
Enforcement Administration. It would broaden the
Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act ( CALEA
), an 11-year-old wiretapping law that currently applies
only to "telecommunications carriers."

The FCC has justified the expansion on the basis of
terrorism and  homeland security concerns, echoing Bush
administration officials who  have warned, for example, of
the perils of VoIP services in rogue hands.

But even as the order kicks in, it remains unclear exactly
what classes  of providers within those broad categories
must comply with the new  rules or what exactly they must
do to achieve compliance.

The FCC said in its original order that it reached "no
conclusions"  about whether universities, research
institutions, and small or rural  broadband providers
should be subject the requirements. It sought  comments on
that topic through subsequent FCC notice. The deadline for
receiving that initial round of suggestions also happens
to be Monday.

The order's vagueness has perplexed some groups hoping to
submit constructive suggestions. In comments filed last
week with the agency,  C&W Enterprises, a small broadband
provider in rural Western Texas,  wrote, "it is difficult
to assess what the costs would be for our company or what
type of exemption we would advocate without knowing what
we will be required to do under the CALEA rules."

The FCC also sought comments on whether to broaden the
scope of wiretapping requirements for VoIP services. The
original order imposes  that burden only on
"interconnected" VoIP providers, such as Vonage and 
SkypeOut, which route calls through the public telephone
network--leaving others, such as peer-to-peer services,
unaffected by the rules.

An FCC representative acknowledged last week that the
existing order does not set specific requirements.
Instead, it is designed to "get the industry  thinking"
about making the changes "so they can begin to incorporate
 CALEA compliance," he said.

The agency plans to release another order clarifying those
 points--though as for when, the representative said, "I
don't have any sense for that now." (The original order
said a follow-up should be expected "in the coming

Some industry representatives reported that they're
already seeking ways  to comply as they await the more
detailed rules. The cable broadband  industry, which
counted about 1.2 million VoIP customers and 23.5  million
Internet subscribers as of the second quarter of this
year, is  "working with the FBI on a CALEA solution for
cable broadband service,"  said Brian Dietz, spokesman for
the National Cable and Television Association.

Verizon executive Douglas Sullivan said Friday that his
company supports the government's "legal conclusions"
about expanding the reach of CALEA and has been working
with vendors over the past few years to build compliant
equipment. He noted that several unanswered questions
remained, including how to recover costs associated with
the changes and how enforcement will operate. "We
understand that the commission intends to address these
issues in a follow-up order we hope will be issued very
soon," Sullivan said in an e-mail interview.

Meanwhile, preliminary legal challenges to the rules
linger. The first one came from the  American Council on
Education, which has said universities and research 
institutions deserve to be exempted from the regulations
because the  changes required are too expensive and would
prompt inevitable tuition hikes. A day later, a coalition
of groups, including the Center for  Democracy and
Technology and the VoIP company Pulver.com, issued their
own one-page notice of appeal. They intend to argue that
Congress never  intended for CALEA to apply to the
Internet and that the FCC has stepped outside its bounds.

The court, as expected, consolidated both groups'
challenges into one  proceeding but has not yet taken any
other actions, said John Morris of the Center for
Democracy and Technology. The groups have until late 
November to file more detailed statements about the claims
they're alleging.

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