Going Dark

Currently, the FBI can intercept messages on web-based email services and land-line phones that companies are using. However, they are unable to conduct surveillance over instant messages or VoIP programs. If one company is using Skype subscription for their customer service, it is impossible for investigators to wiretap the content of these conversations. Surveillance programs are required if the purpose is to enhance evidence gathering capabilities and intelligence collection of investigating agencies. American companies could help the FBI in their efforts against terrorists and potential criminals by integrating backdoor software to their communication systems.

Similar moves asking for surveillance over companies’ communication were rejected in 1990s. The government can only intercept cellular and telephone since then. Taking WorldCom as an example, the incident occurred because of the lack of transparency and outsider oversight. The FBI claim that they could have prevented the loss of millions of dollars if they had sufficient surveillance capacity at that time. Ten years later, the emergency of new technologies allows people to communicate and make phone calls over the Internet. The FBI, again, does not have control over the encrypted conversations. These new tools, in some senses, facilitate people who disguise as normal employees to serve as connectors for terrorism.

In the real world, Investigators are usually one step behind in the criminals because savvy Internet users are always able to delete their traces. Therefore, Justice Department once proposed ISPs to keep record of what their subscribers are looking at. The reason is that it takes the polices a while to track criminal traces; while ISPs are able to know exactly what activities one does online and when. However, the proposal dis not get through because technology companies want to protect their customers’ privacy.

Some suggest that lawful interception programs should be developed extensively with all American companies because terrorists threats could come from anywhere. This will support investigating process to find the link between subject surveillance and suspects. This will also discourage online potential crimes such as child molesters and extortionist. Another benefit is that new surveillance technologies also prevent copyright infringement which is a real online economic thread to music, movies, games and software products industry. However, the bad aspect of this options is that software always have defects that make these backdoor become more of front doors for savvy hackers. Business secrets might be revealed. Competitiveness might be hampered. Customers satisfaction might be negatively impacted if they know that their privacy is violated.

Another alternative is to apply backdoor only the major peer-to-peer networking websites and popular software companies. The first advantage is that criminal usually uses popular sites to transmit their communication. They think it would be harder to trace. This option will also eliminate software defection possibilities when backdoor are set specifically for those companies. However, companies can always find a way to avoid surveillance because backdoor will certainly reduce their security, affect their customer loyalty, and discourage people from using their services. In fact, their customers might turn into their opponents.

For conclusion, the FBI needs to identify particular types of services or technologies that are most in need to additional surveillance such as Skype or Google Talk. Focusing on certain services will certainly eliminate software defection and hacker risks. For companies that suffer a huge amount of cost when integrating new software, the government should offer them financial supports which make the plan more viable.


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