Internet Balancing Act: Law Enforcement vs. Privacy

As a deadline approaches for implementing federal laws regarding Internet monitoring by law enforcement, key disputes over privacy issues have yet to be settled.

As a deadline approaches for implementing federal laws regarding Internet monitoring by law enforcement, key disputes over privacy issues have yet to be settled.

As law enforcement moves toward more high-tech surveillance methods, experts point out that major conflicts between the need for computer security and users’ rights to privacy have yet to be resolved.

One Internet security analyst told NewsFactor Network on Friday that controversy over surveillance methods like the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) DCS1000 Internet monitoring system — formerly known as “Carnivore” — demonstrates the need for all parties involved to cooperate in safeguarding all online communications.

“From the beginning, law enforcement has been able to legally intercept or capture many forms of communication, and it will continue to do so,” Charles Kolodgy, research manager of IDC’s Internet security group, told NewsFactor.

Kolodgy said it is not realistic to expect all Internet surveillance by authorities to be halted. He added that privacy advocates’ absolute stance against the surveillance “is nothing more than a smokescreen for their abhorrence towards any government eavesdropping.”

“If the privacy advocates really want to do something about this issue, they should be hammering the carriers, phone manufacturers and software providers to ensure that encryption is standard and required for all communications,” Kolodgy said.

“They would have seminars to educate the public on the threat of eavesdropping [from all directions] and get the public to demand a solution.”

Carnivore Gets Bitten

A telecommunications advocacy group, along with several privacy groups already critical of Carnivore, has expressed concern that the agency will use its system to intercept wireless e-mail and other messages in a more widespread fashion, the Washington Post reported Friday.

In a recent letter to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA) stated that its members will not be able to supply the proper technological privacy safeguards by the September 30th deadline imposed by a 1994 federal law.

As result, the CTIA said, the FBI may begin wholesale examination of messages sent by mobile telephones and other wireless devices.

CTIA vice president and general counsel Michael Altschul wrote: “If the industry is not provided the guidance and time to develop solutions for packet surveillance that intercept only the target’s communications, it seems probable that Carnivore, which intercepts all communications in the pathway without the affirmative intervention of the carrier, will be widely implemented.”

‘Napsterization’ of Carnivore

In a prepared statement, the FBI asserted that it would not use Carnivore as a solution for compliance with the 1994 law.

But Richard Hunter, managing vice president of the Gartner Group, told NewsFactor that the technology in the FBI’s possession could lead to a slippery slope in determining what it can legally monitor.

“What we’re seeing here is parallel to what we’ve been seeing in the private sector, this [fallacy] that asserts that if they have the technology, that gives them the right to use it,” Hunter told NewsFactor.

Hunter used the old version of Napster as an analogy, noting that many of its users rationalized that since Napster allowed them to download copyrighted songs, “then it must be okay.”

Hunter added that the FBI has the additional rationale of using its technology to assure public safety and security.

“We are seeing nearly daily demonstrations that any human communications can and will be monitored,” said Hunter. “We must think quickly and hard about whether the ability to [monitor such communications] is tantamount to the right to do it.”

Encryption Across the Board

IDC analyst Kolodgy said that encrypting all online communications would be the most effective method to ensure that no one’s privacy rights are violated, and would keep agencies such as the FBI from overstepping their bounds.

“If everything is encrypted, [organizations like the FBI] must work with carriers to have stuff unencrypted and so can’t accidentally read messages” that aren’t within their scope, Kolodgy said.

“People have described e-mail as being like a postcard,” Kolodgy added. “Encryption is like having a sealed envelope. You lose the temptation to take that postcard and look it over.”

Author: Robyn Weisman

News Service: NewsFactor Network


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