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Saturday, February 26, 2011

When going dark means enlightment

A new policy analysis of the FBI's "Going Dark" project (which, you gotta admit is a lot catchier than workmanlike title "CALEA II") is out from CDT. The opening grafs and the URL to the full document are below:


The Federal Bureau of Investigation is seeking new technology mandates that would make it easier for law enforcement and national security officials to conduct surveillance of new communications services. While nothing has yet been proposed, the New York Times has reported that the FBI wants to amend the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) to require that a range of companies re-design their services.

When CALEA was adopted in 1994, it covered a handful of telecommunications companies using switching equipment made by a handful of manufacturers. The technologies and services the FBI now apparently wants to bring under CALEA are much more diverse. Some were developed in garages and others in college dorm rooms. They take advantage of the unique, decentralized design of the Internet. It would be very disruptive if they had to follow the centralized model of the traditional telephone system.

The FBI, calling its program “Going Dark,” argues that is could lose the ability to conduct surveillance. There is no doubt that communications technologies have changed dramatically recent years, that some communications are more difficult to intercept than are others, and that the FBI has a legitimate concern that criminals and terrorists will gravitate to communications technologies that are difficult to surveil. However, taken as a whole, the digital revolution has made more information available to the FBI than ever before and government surveillance goes up almost every year. In 2009, the most recent year for which statistics are available, federal and state law enforcement placed a record 2,376 wiretaps. On average, 3,763 communications were intercepted in each of these wiretaps. Far from "Going Dark" as a result of advances in technology, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies are experiencing a boon in electronic surveillance.

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