The Internet is ruining everything! It’s destroying cable companies because the youth of America don’t want to pay to watch TV. It’s tainting jury pools with the opinions of its anonymous commenters. And now that more people are communicating online rather than over the phone, the Internet is seriously hampering the feds’ ability to keep tabs on
anyone they want criminal and terrorism suspects. The Obama administration plans to submit a bill to Congress next year that will require technologies like BlackBerry, Facebook, and Skype to be capable of complying with a wiretap order, including the ability to intercept and unscramble encrypted messages. Since there are no hackers that can best the U.S. government, this sounds like a foolproof plan! James X. Dempsey, vice-president of the Center for Democracy and Technology, says the proposal challenges fundamental aspects of the way the Internet works, including its decentralized design: “They basically want to turn back the clock and make Internet services function the way that the telephone system used to function.”
There’s no record of how many times the national-security officials have been thwarted because the technology wasn’t primed for surveillance. But officials pointed to a drug cartel that used peer-to-peer software, which was routed through a central hub and therefore difficult to intercept, and failed Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad, who might have been caught earlier had he not been communicating through a service that was without pre-built interception capacity.
Privacy and technology experts point out that requiring back-door interception capabilities opens the door for hackers as well, pointing to an episode in Greece a few years back where hackers took advantage of a mandated wiretap to spy on the prime minister’s phone. 4chan, come out, come out, wherever you are!