According to an article originally posted on the New York Times on 9/27/2010, reporter Charlie Savage has learned that the FBI and other government agencies such as the NSA wish to extend the current wiretapping laws so that all forms of communication would be subject to federal wiretapping laws including all encrypted and secure communications. This has huge implications if this passes through congress as companies would have to provide ways for the government to not only monitor all forms of electronic communications, but also providing the government with a way to decode encrypted communications.
Currently communications such as VOIP services from Skpe or Vonage or any other carrier are encrypted so that only the other party being contacted is able to hear the conversation. Emails from devices like Blackberrys, Smart phones, etc are also encrypted so that only the intended party to receive the message can see and view the email or message. Now that we are use to working and living in a world of communication options all the time, and are comfortable knowing that our communications are relatively safe and secure the Federal Government wants to have access into our lives.
I am not so worried that they are eavesdropping even though they are, but what I am worried about is how they expect companies to provide the access that they are wanting. Here is an example; you send an encrypted email to your friend across the country. The email has encryption, however the government wants a “key” so to speak to be able to intercept that email and open and read your email to ensure that you are not a terrorist. How will they be able to do this? This is my worry! The way it normally works is that if you send an encrypted email that the other person on the other side has the key to unlock the email. Take this a step forward… you are using a Blackberry unit and because it is a wireless device, it is randomly changing the encryption codes to the emails and messages being sent from the unit. Because this encryption code is changing all the time, it is near impossible to intercept the email and decrypt the contents.
Therefore, what the government wants to occur will require companies such as Blackberry to provide a universal key that will be able to open all emails, texts, etc. The danger is that if this occurs then this makes Blackberry devices a target with all the hackers out there looking for a way to create the “universal” key to enter through Pandora’s Box.
For those of you that watched the movie “The Net” with Sandra Bullock, this was the premise of the movie. The manufacture of security software included a back door to allow people a way into those classified networks. As the government agency implemented this high security product, they had no idea that this allowed the manufacture access to everyone’s files. What the government is asking for today has the potential of doing the same, but at the level that the government wants access there is no one that will be safe.
So I thought to myself, what would the impact be to the average person? The government will have access to all your emails (encrypted or not), access to all your text messages, VOIP phone calls, access to all messages posted on Face Book or MySpace, Twitter, etc. Just about any form of communication would be susceptible to some form of government intrusion. Today the FBI wants in, but who knows which other agencies they will have to share their access with, allowing even more agencies to eavesdrop on all your personal communications.
President Obama is trying to push the bill through Congress next year, in hopes of removing our privacy in a few more ways. I understand the need to fight terrorism, and as the terrorist use new forms of technology the need to keep up with the technology is hard, but at how much of a price to personal privacy. There needs to be a balance, and at the same time, we do not need to offer even more ways for hackers to steal, intercept, and use our personal information against us all.