Feeds

Feds want backdoors built into VoIP and email

Warn of investigations 'going dark'

Developers of email, instant-messaging and voice-over-internet-protocol applications would be forced to redesign their services so their contents can be intercepted by law enforcement agents armed with legal wiretap orders under federal legislation reported on Monday by The New York Times.

The legislation would, among other things, require cellphone carriers, websites and other types of service providers to have a way to unscramble encrypted communications traveling over their networks, the report said. It specifically mentions companies such as Research in Motion and Skype, which are popular in part because their cellular communications and VoIP services respectively are widely regarded as offering robust encryption that's impractical if not impossible for government agents to crack.

That in turn has led to warnings by investigators that their ability to wiretap criminal and terrorism suspects is "going dark” as the world increasingly communicates using newer technologies instead of the traditional phone system.

“We're talking about lawfully authorized intercepts,” Valerie E. Caproni, general counsel for the FBI, told The New York Times. “We're not talking expanding authority. We're talking about preserving our ability to execute our existing authority in order to protect the public safety and national security.”

Under the Communications Assistance to Law Enforcement Act, phone and broadband service providers are required to have the technical means in place to eavesdrop on their subscribers. But it doesn't apply to communication service providers, which often offer strong end-to-end encryption services that make it infeasible for them to intercept traffic even through it travels over their networks.

Under a draft bill expected to be submitted to the US Congress when it convenes next year, such services would have to be redesigned, according to Monday's report. Foreign-based providers that do business inside the US would also have to install a domestic office capable of performing intercepts, it said.

The measure is sure to stoke fierce opposition among business leaders, security experts and civil liberties advocates. They argue that the backdoors may have vulnerabilities that can allow hackers to illegally intercept protected communications. Indeed, something similar to that occurred in 2006 when hackers took advantage of legally mandated wiretap functions in Greece to spy on top government officials, including the prime minister.

In addition to threatening the public's privacy, such backdoors can put US-sanctioned services at a competitive disadvantage with those that don't have backdoors built in, critics have charged.

The FBI spent $9.75m last year helping communication companies comply with surveillance requests, the report said. Beyond the costs, the process can significantly delay critical investigations, defenders of the measure said. ®

More from The Register

next story
Phones 4u slips into administration after EE cuts ties with Brit mobe retailer
More than 5,500 jobs could be axed if rescue mission fails
Israeli spies rebel over mass-snooping on innocent Palestinians
'Disciplinary treatment will be sharp and clear' vow spy-chiefs
Apple CEO Tim Cook: TV is TERRIBLE and stuck in the 1970s
The iKing thinks telly is far too fiddly and ugly – basically, iTunes
Huawei ditches new Windows Phone mobe plans, blames poor sales
Giganto mobe firm slams door shut on Microsoft. OH DEAR
Phones 4u website DIES as wounded mobe retailer struggles to stay above water
Founder blames 'ruthless network partners' for implosion
Found inside ISIS terror chap's laptop: CELINE DION tunes
REPORT: Stash of terrorist material found in Syria Dell box
Show us your Five-Eyes SECRETS says Privacy International
Refusal to disclose GCHQ canteen menus and prices triggers Euro Human Rights Court action
prev story

Whitepapers

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.