FBI Wants to Read Facebook, Gmail, Skype Messages

Dennis Faas's picture

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is reportedly pushing for a change in the U.S. law related to wiretapping. If passed, the changes would allow government monitoring of Facebook, Skype, and some email services.

The idea is to change the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), which currently doesn't give investigators the right to monitor and intercept communications.

Instead, the law forces telecommunications providers to set up their services in a way that makes such monitoring and intercepting technologically possible.

Email, VoIP, Social Media to be Monitored?

At the moment, the rules affect only phone companies.

The FBI wants changes to include three categories of online company: webmail providers such as Hotmail or Gmail; social networks such as Facebook and Twitter; and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone services, such as Skype. (Source: cnet.com)

There has also been discussion about extending the existing rules on phone services to cover any online technology that allows voice or video communication. In theory, this change could include even online gaming services.

Court Orders Still Required

If the proposed changes take effect, the FBI's power to carry out wiretapping won't change: the law enforcement agency will still be required to get a court order, in many cases.

The changes simply mean that officials won't find themselves unable to carry out a court order because of technical barriers.

For example, online communication companies may be required to provide the agency with tools that would allow intercepted messages to be decrypted, where necessary. (Source: pcmag.com)

The FBI could face a tough challenge persuading technology companies, privacy groups, and politicians that making these kinds of changes is the right thing to do.

Opponents are likely to argue that investigators might misuse their newly extended monitoring capabilities.

There will also be many who are concerned that online companies themselves will be tempted to take unfair advantage of the new rules.

Before formally presenting the proposals, the FBI is looking to get as much of the technology industry on its side as it can. It is reportedly in talks with major online firms to find ways of minimizing the disruption any of these changes could cause to their operations or customer relations.

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