Wiretapping the Internet for the sake of security

The NY Times reported that the U.S. government is preparing a bill for Congress that seeks”sweeping new regulations for the Internet, arguing that their ability to wiretap criminal and terrorism suspects is ‘going dark’ as people increasingly communicate online instead of by telephone.”

The bill would force all Internet-based service providers to have the infrastructure to comply with a wiretap order that enables the government to intercept and unscramble encrypted messages sent by any communication service; whether it be peer-to-peer, mobile device, social networking or email.

Proposed requirements include:

  • Communications services that encrypt messages must have a way to unscramble them
  • Foreign-based providers that do business inside the United States must install a domestic office capable of performing intercepts
  • Developers of software that enables peer-to-peer communication must redesign their service to allow interception
  • Providers that fail to comply would face fines or some other penalty

Naturally this news has created cries of “Big Brother” and fear of threats to individual privacy rendered under the “war on terrorism.”  But before there is a call to arms for proletariats everywhere to battle the government with pitchforks and hammers, we must consider what happened with Internet surveillance software in the workplace.

When an employee signs an agreement that acknowledges an employer’s rights to monitor any activities performed using company assets (phone, computer), the employee is restricted to what he or she can do with company assets. However, most companies because of limited IT resources and inability to monitor thousands of communications daily, filter on websites, words or patterns from a probabilistic algorithm. They can’t monitor and respond to everything so they create filters that flag on a relatively few things that can create liability for the employer.

So any wiretapping, I’m assuming, would have to focus on the key flags germane to a probabilistic chance of some criminal activity. It would have to be considered along with other pieces of information before any assessment is made.  Therefore it is unlikely, I hope, that the government would be spending time and effort to monitor billions of transactions, just to collar someone who is cheating on a spouse.  As for me I’ll just keep on plowing ahead with my pitchfork and hay.