HEADLINE: PRIVACY: FBI To Require ISPs To Reconfigure E-mail Systems

The FBI is in the process of finalizing technical guidelines that would require all Internet service providers (ISPS) to reconfigure their e-mail systems so they could be more easily accessible to law enforcers. The move, to be completed over the next two months, would cause ISPs to act as phone companies do to comply with a 1994 digital-wiretapping law. “They are in the process of developing a very detailed set of standards for how to make packet data” available to the FBI, said Stewart Baker, an attorney at Steptoe & Johnson who was formerly the chief counsel to the National Security Agency (NSA).

PHOENIX — The FBI is in the process of finalizing technical guidelines that would require all Internet service providers (ISPS) to reconfigure their e-mail systems so they could be more easily accessible to law enforcers. The move, to be completed over the next two months, would cause ISPs to act as phone companies do to comply with a 1994 digital-wiretapping law. “They are in the process of developing a very detailed set of standards for how to make packet data” available to the FBI, said Stewart Baker, an attorney at Steptoe & Johnson who was formerly the chief counsel to the National Security Agency (NSA).

The proposal is not a part of the anti-terrorism legislation currently before Congress because the agency is expected to argue that the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) already grants it the authority to impose the requirement, Baker said. He added that some ISPs already meet the requirements.

Baker, who frequently represents Internet companies being asked to conduct electronic surveillance for the FBI, made the revelation Tuesday in a panel discussion at the Agenda 2002 conference here on how the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks are likely to affect the technology industry and civil liberties. He elaborated on the plan in an interview.

Such a stance could result in considerable cost to many ISPs, and it would constitute a reversal of previous government policy, which held that ISPs are not subject to CALEA’s requirements. But Baker also said “it has been a long-term goal of the FBI and is not just a reaction to Sept. 11.”

Mitchell Kapor, chairman of the Open Source Application Foundation and a founder of Lotus Development, also spoke on the panel. Kapor also started the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and has been a vocal advocate of Internet privacy. EFF played a significant role in the CALEA debate, and divisions over whether to support that law led to a split of the organization.

“Under the cover of people’s outrage [over the terrorist attacks] and desire for revenge, lots of things that have been defeated before have been brought back in [to the anti-terrorism legislation] without a demonstration that the lack of appropriate law is a problem,” Kapor said in an interview. But on the whole, Kapor and Baker shared more common ground on the acceptability of new electronic surveillance than they had in the past, with both expressing the view that now is a time for calm reconsideration of positions rather than butting horns over the details of how civil liberties would be curtailed by an anti-terrorism bill.

“I find myself more in the middle than I used to because my identity in life is not as a civil liberties advocate,” Kapor said. “Part is being an American and a world citizen.” Baker said it was entirely appropriate for the FBI to conduct far more surveillance.

“What has changed [since Sept. 11] is the view of the technology community,” Baker said. “I used to get calls like, ‘How can I beat the NSA?'” said Baker. “Now, people call and say, ‘I have this great idea that would help NSA,’ or, ‘I want to go volunteer and do outreach on behalf of the FBI or NSA.’ There is a real change of people’s view about who the bad guys are.”

Author: National Journal’s Technology Daily

News Service: National Journal’s Technology Daily