Obama promises net wiretap legislation

Posted by Nick Farrell

It appears that Barack Obama will become known for his internet wiretapping laws.

According to Reuters , Obama wants to end the long-running debate over internet snooping with a law which would mean that law-enforcement agencies to tap into many types of web communications.

Needless to say bringing in such a law will have political, technical and legal obstacles and if Obama gets it through it will represent a sea change in US culture.

If he succeeds,  the FBI and other agencies will easily be able to snoop on voice-over-Internet-protocol (VoIP) services such as those offered by Microsoft's Skype and real-time chat services.

It would end a regime where the FBI has difficultly snooping but can eavesdrop on traditional telephone calls. Needless to say tech companies hate the idea and it would likely face stiff opposition in Congress.

Spooks can already ask the courts to wiretap almost anything, but at the moment only traditional telecommunications carriers are required to make it easy.

The law, Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, does not apply to any of Microsoft's services, including Skype because it does not class Microsoft is not a telecommunications carrier.

Obama's law would encompass VoIP, chat and any other internet communication services. It has not been revealed how companies could be compelled to help police and intelligence agencies unscramble encrypted communications, in addition to providing access.

Obama's proposed law is a slightly watered down version of what the FBI wants. They had called for a blanket requirement that internet companies give authorised law enforcement officials the same kind of sweeping, turn-key access to their networks that phone companies do.

But tech companies, civil libertarians and some government officials pointed out that this was impractical for smaller companies and that back doors created for law enforcement present serious security risks.

The fact Obama would end up pushing the law will make him the punching bag for every US citizen who is already worried about their government.