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Surveillance and Cyberspace

Monday, April 29, 2013 at 1:37 PM

As Raffaela has already noted, in today’s Washington Post there is a fascinating story about government plans to require new cyber communications technologies to provide a means by which the government can intercept communications.  The problem, briefly stated, is that even when the government has probable cause to believe a crime has been committed (and thus, could in theory secure an interception warrant from a judge) many of the new technologies for communication do not currently have the technological capabilities to permit the interception to occur.  The government calls this the “going dark” problem.  Of course, internet freedom proponents call it  a good thing.

Last time around, in 1994, when the government moved to require the new digital technologies to include interception capabilities, it paid for the changes.  This time around, in light of our austerity budget, it looks like the private sector will be obliged to bear the cost.  In addition, I understand that some of the distributed communications systems (known by the generic name of peer-to-peer communications) may not be capable of retrofitting to accommodate an interception capability.

The government’s suggestion was first surfaced in 2010 and apparently is now gaining new force.  For those who want some detailed background on the subject, I wrote a paper on this — “The Evolution of Wiretapping“  — that became part of a chapter on encryption and wiretapping in my book on Cyber Warfare.