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In a move that's frightening privacy advocates, federal officials want to expand their authority to wiretap e-mails, Facebook accounts and other Internet services. Authorities argue that criminals are increasingly communicating online and merely monitoring their phone activity isn't sufficient. As the New York Times' Charlie Savage reports:

The bill, which the Obama administration plans to submit to lawmakers next year, raises fresh questions about how to balance security needs with protecting privacy and fostering innovation. And because security services around the world face the same problem, it could set an example that is copied globally.

Is this a reasonable request or dangerous expansion of power?

  • This Could Leave Us All Vulnerable, writes Dean Takahashi at VentureBeat:

The telephone network was easy to tap because phone companies controlled it through centralized switches. The FBI could place wiretaps on any phone line in the country. But the internet is decentralized. With peer-to-peer technologies, users communicate directly with each other. There is no 'central switch' that could be the interception point for a wiretap.

If companies such as Skype and Facebook were forced to design holes in their networks so that FBI officials could listen into conversations, that would re-centralize the networks, raise costs, and possibly introduce vulnerabilities to the software that could be exploited by hackers.

  • Unclear How Many Cases Have Been Thwarted by This, writes Larry Dignan at ZDNet: "Frankly, I could go either way. The Times notes that a lot of technical details have to be worked out. It’s also unclear how many investigations have been hampered by peer-to-peer and social networking technologies. In any case, developers would theoretically have to build in intercept capabilities. The topic is just developing, but it’s one worth examining further."
  • Only the Corporations Can Save Us Now, writes liberal blogger Marcy Wheeler:

Any communication you make, any financial transaction you make, the Obama Administration thinks nine years after 9/11 is the time to demand such access.

I suspect it’s only the corporations can save us from this power grab. Not only are corporations doing business in the US not going to want all their transactions accessible by the government (we’ve already stolen enough corporate secrets), but banks aren’t going to want to track transactions at that level.

Though who knows? Maybe the corporations are ready to join Obama’s panopticon?

  • Hard to See How It Would Work, writes Larry Seltzer at PC Magazine: "It's... hard to see how this requirement would be enforced against open source protocols like BitTorrent protocol encryption. The Times quotes computer science and law enforcement experts as saying that implementation would be difficult, expensive for providers and likely to be exploited by hackers for illicit purposes."
  • I Understand the Need, but Obama Will Pay a Price, writes conservative Clyde Middleton at Liberty Pundits: "From a national-security view, I understand the need.  But how can the King of the Progressives dare to want to read Buffy and Tiffany’s chats?  Can’t wait for the ACLU’s blowback on this one."

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