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Feds Try to Make Internet 'Wiretaps' Easier

By Jason Beahm on September 29, 2010 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Obama administration wants to make wiretaps easier, specifically when it comes to the internet and e-mail.

According to U.S. officials, law enforcement has been hindered by the use of encrypted phone and e-mail systems that block out government wiretaps. Law enforcement says that it needs to be able to access such systems in order to monitor and prevent potential acts of terrorism or other crimes. Right now, many popular services are encrypted or have options that allow encryption, including Facebook, Skype and BlackBerry e-mail.

New wiretapping regulations will likely be sent to Congress in 2011 that would require service providers to hand over plain text versions of encrypted conversations. Such provisions would likely include a "backdoor" or similar change to the system that would allow a wiretap to capture an unencrypted version of the communication, The Associated Press reports.

Valerie E. Caproni, the FBI's General Counsel, says that the changes are necessary and would not expand law enforcement authority: "...telecommunications law has not kept up. This gap between reality and the law has created a significant national security and public safety problem," she said. Naturally privacy advocates had a different take, calling the wiretaps plan "a shortsighted and ill-conceived power grab by some in the administration," The Associated Press reports. Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center argues, "The balance has swung radically toward enhanced law enforcement powers. For them to argue that it's still not enough is just unbelievable. It's breathtaking in its hubris."

It is certainly a matter worth keeping a close eye on--the end result will impact how close an eye the government can keep on you.

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