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The FBI has some strange ideas about how to “update” federal surveillance laws: They’re calling for legislation to penalize online services that provide users with too much security.
Why? Federal law enforcement agencies like the FBI have long feared their wiretap capabilities would begin “going dark” as criminals and terrorists — along with ordinary citizens — shift from telephone networks, which are required to be wiretap-ready under the 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), to the dizzying array of online communications platforms available today.
While it’s not yet clear how dire the going-dark scenario really is, the statutory “cure” proposed by the FBI — with fines starting at $25,000 a day for companies that aren’t wiretap capable — would surely be worse than the disease.
The FBI’s misguided proposal would impose costly burdens on thousands of companies (and threaten to entirely kill those whose business model centers on providing highly secure encrypted communications), while making cloud solutions less attractive to businesses and users. It would aid totalitarian governments eager to spy on their citizens while distorting business decisions about software design. Perhaps worst of all, it would treat millions of law-abiding users with legitimate security needs as presumed criminals — while doing little to hamper actual criminals.
But if the FBI gets its way, companies won’t be able to adopt that “end to end” encryption model, or offer their users the security it provides. A wiretap interface is essentially an intentional security vulnerability, as network engineer Susan Landau points out — which means requiring companies to be wiretap-capable is also mandating them to design less secure services.
Less secure networks will also make the cyber-security of individuals weaker, which makes the lives of hackers, who are not in for good, easier.