As more criminals and criminal activity utilize social media, the FBI sees a requirement to create new ways to conduct surveillance in order to prevent or solve crimes. To that end, FBI Director, Robert Mueller, is asking major Internet related companies to build backdoors into their products and services. The FBI has asked that social media companies not oppose these efforts. However, this will affect ITSPs such as Broadvox as well since the proposed law would also apply to providers of VoIP, email and instant messaging. Using the term “wiretap-friendly” to soften the approach and “going dark” before Congress to heighten tension, the FBI hopes to push this through with little resistance.
Politics aside, a major tool in crime prevention, investigation and solving is the wiretap. The telephone was the communications method of choice due to its speed and somewhat anonymity. Today, the FBI faces a multitude of other means of communication and they don’t have good crime fighting alternatives. So what is the harm in providing the level of access or backdoors as requested? There is a very thin line between investigating and spying and the FBI has crossed that line too many times in the past for us to believe they will not do it again. In fact, even the study’s title that identified this need is of concern, "National Electronic Surveillance Strategy."
This effort reminds of the earlier proposed expansion of CALEA (Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act), SOPA (Stop Online Piracy ACT), PIPA (Protect IP Act) and CISPA (Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act). Each of these threatens to change the way our government views our communications and privacy for decades to come.
IP Communications is at the heart of this debate and protecting our access and usage to this technology is paramount. While the ACLU and other noted groups are fighting to modify or stop the FBI, NSA and DEA from gaining the types of requested access, it is just as important for Google, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook and other to offer a full throated resistance. There needs to be some form of access but it must not hinder innovation or normal business and civilian communications, and it must contain effective safeguards.