Updated 22 May, 2013, 9:27 pm IST
FBI seeks backdoor access to social networks
| by Padmini Harchandrai |
It's no secret that the Federal Bureau of Investigation wants to monitor the social networks to gather information on suspects and criminals. Back in January, we reported that the FBI was developing an application that would effectively be an early warning system, locating possible global and local threats superimposed onto maps using mash-up technology. Now, CNET reports that the FBI is asking Internet companies, like Microsoft, Google, Facebook and Twitter to not oppose a bill that would require the companies to rework their code for FBI backdoor access. The report says that in meetings with White House officials, U.S Senators and senior FBI officials, discussions have revolved around how major communication has shifted from phone systems to online communication. This means that wire-tapping suspects and criminals is less fruitful than before.
The FBI's senior counsel is drafting a bill that would require Internet companies, like social networking sites, e-mail services and VoIP service providers to create a backdoor for the FBI to access information for surveillance. The requirement will extend to companies only after they reach a certain number of users. The proposal would essentially amend a law that was passed in 1994, the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, also known as the CALEA, which currently applies only to telecommunications services and not web services. CNET says that FBI Director, Robert Mueller is not asking tech companies to support the FBI's CALEA expansion, but rather assist the Bureau to minimize impact of the extension. Tech companies are not likely to be thrilled with such an expansion and both Apple and Microsoft have lobbyists investigating the matter.
Meanwhile, the application that the FBI was reported to be developing would, "provide an automated capability of search and scrape of social networks including Facebook and Twitter, allow users to create new keyword searches, display different levels of threats as alerts on maps, possibly using colour coding to distinguish priority. Google Maps 3D and Yahoo Maps are listed among the "preferred" mapping options, plot a wide range of domestic and global terror data and immediately translate foreign language tweets into English". The bureau says that the application will help spot 'bad actors', people who intentionally mislead law enforcement officials and spot vulnerabilities in suspected groups. Of course, there are major privacy issues to this application and privacy campaigners have raised concerns on the matter. They say there will be a 'dragnet effect', which means that more people than just suspects will have their information and content under surveillance.
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