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Feds Using ISPs to Spy on Internet Users
November 13, 2005
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Having recently reported how ISPs are being pressurized into revealing information on internet users, the USA stands on the threshold of a far more ominous threat to privacy that will force ISPs to allow a wide range of law enforcement agencies direct real time access to their own systems.

Having exposed the EU’s intentions regarding data retention in a news article on Slyck, it comes as little surprise to hear that similar moves are afoot in the USA. Intelligence agencies already have full access to ISPs in those countries participating in the Echelon electronic spying network (Australia, Canada, the UK and the USA), and these latest measures are intended to extend similar powers to a wide range of other agencies.

This latest move has arisen in response to representations made by the Department of Justice, the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Agency out of concern that emerging technologies “were making it increasingly difficult for law enforcement agencies to execute authorized surveillance”. As a consequence, the US communications governing body, the Federal Communications Commission issued a final Order effective Monday November 14th compelling all broadband Internet service providers and many Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, companies to include backdoors allowing police and many other enforcement agencies to directly eavesdrop on their customers by April 2007.

Curiously the deadline for consultation also ends this Monday, which happens to be the very day the 59 page Order becomes effective. The FCC acknowledge that this is confusing and say that they will be issuing further directives in forthcoming months to clarify issues such as P2P voice communications (as apart from VoIP) and whether educational establishments are considered ISPs in their own rights. ISPs will have 18 months from November 14th to fully comply.

This move supplements and updates the 11 year old Communications Alliance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), which dealt with the issue of wiretapping on telecommunications carriers, and addresses the concern that emerging technologies such as VoIP, IM and Emails all lie outside the scope of existing legislation.

Clearly VoIP is causing great consternation to government agencies, as highlighted by Deputy Assistant Attorney General Laura Parsky when emotively addressing a Senate panel on homeland security issues back in June stating "It is even more critical today than (when CALEA was enacted in) 1994 that advances in communications technology (do) not provide a haven for criminal activity and an undetectable means of death and destruction".

Two separate legal challenges have been mounted by EFF, trade group CompTel , VoIP provider Pulver.com, The Center for Technology & Democracy and the Electronic Privacy Information in alliance, with the American Council for Education mounting a parallel challenge. Preliminary hearings are imminent.

In the meantime Douglas Sullivan of Verizon has been reported as saying that they have been working with vendors over the issue of compliant systems for several years, although he expressed concern at the cost implications and how it will operate. Brian Dietz of the National Cable and Television Association is also reported as having said that his members have been working with the FBI in anticipation of this legislation for some time.

Coming on top of our report that the EU now plans to compel all ISPs throughout Europe to keep records of internet activity for 12 months, with telephone records being retained for "at least" 6 months, this is a troubling – if not entirely unpredicted - development for those living in the USA.


This story is filed in these Slyck News categories
Technology News :: Security

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