Now, US wants to tap social networking too

US authorities plan to bring in new sweeping regulations to monitor the Internet and all facilities that enables communication to allow surveillance of encrypted services.

Updated: Sep 27, 2010, 21:00 PM IST

Washington: US authorities plan to bring
in new sweeping regulations to monitor the Internet and all
facilities that enables communication, months after India and
Dubai asked RIM, the Canada-based makers of BlackBerry, to
allow surveillance of encrypted services.

Federal law enforcement and national security
officials argue that their ability to wiretap criminal and
terrorism suspects is "going dark" as people increasingly
communicate online instead of telephone.

Officials want Congress to require all services that
enable communications - including encrypted e-mail
transmitters like BlackBerry, social networking Web sites like
Facebook and software that allows direct "peer to peer"
messaging like Skype - to be technically capable of complying
if served with a wiretap order.

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, The New York Times reported.

The proposal has "huge implications" and challenged
"fundamental elements of the Internet revolution", including
its decentralised design, James X Dempsey, vice president of
the Center for Democracy and Technology, an Internet policy
group, said.

"They are really asking for the authority to redesign
services that take advantage of the unique, and now pervasive,
architecture of the Internet," he said.

"They basically want to turn back the clock and make
Internet services function the way that the telephone system
used to function."

But law enforcement officials contend that imposing
such a mandate is reasonable and necessary to prevent the
erosion of their investigative powers.

Officials from FBI and Justice department want to the
new regulations broadly, including to companies that operate
from servers abroad, like Research in Motion, the Canadian
maker of BlackBerry devices.

In recent months, that company has come into conflict
with the governments of Dubai and India over their inability
to conduct surveillance of messages sent via its encrypted
service.

In the United States, phone and broadband networks are
already required to have interception capabilities, under a
1994 law called the Communications Assistance to Law
Enforcement Act.

Often, investigators can intercept communications at a
switch operated by the network company. But sometimes - like
when the target uses a service that encrypts messages between
his computer and its servers - they must instead serve the
order on a service provider to get unscrambled versions.
Moreover, some services encrypt messages between
users, so that even the provider cannot unscramble them.

-PTI