EFF challenges government to prove it needs more surveillance

Posted by Emma Woollacott

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has filed a suit against three government agencies, aiming to challenge their assertion that 'back doors' should be incorporated into all communications systems for security reasons.

The FBI has been calling for the ability to spy on communications via everything from email to Xboxes, claiming that advances in technology are hampering it in its efforts to intercept information.

But the EFF wants proof. It has now filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), and the Department Of Justice's Criminal Division to see if they can back up their claims with specific examples.

"The sweeping changes the government is proposing, to require 'back doors' into all private communications technologies, would have enormous privacy and security ramifications for American internet users," says EFF staff attorney Jennifer Lynch.

"Any meaningful debate must be based on the information we're seeking in the FOIA requests, so the government's failure to comply in a timely manner is troubling."

The EFF has also requested records on any discussions that DoJ agencies may have had with technology companies, trade organizations and Congress about potential expansion of surveillance laws.

The FBI had already agreed that the records should be disclosed quickly - but failed to do so within the time limit set by Congress to respond to a FOIA request, prompting the EFF lawsuit.

"A mandate requiring an easy-to-open 'back door' to electronic communications is an idea that was proposed and rejected over fifteen years ago because it would be ineffective, cause security vulnerabilities, and hurt American business - on top of the damage it would do to Americans' privacy and free speech rights," says EFF legal director Cindy Cohn.

"Any attempt to require the same mandate today should start with a concrete and realistic evaluation of how often the government investigations are stymied by the lack of a 'back door.' Anything less than that is asking the public to blindly rubber-stamp a flawed plan at a very high cost to Americans and American business."