Tuesday, May 7, 2013

FBI Push to Tap Internet Communications Triggers Big Brother Paranoia

The Washington Post and the New York Times have both reported that the Obama administration is considering a bill that will enable the FBI to tap internet users in much the same way as it has permission to wiretap. The matter has been debated for years, as far back as 2010, when the FBI asked Congress to pass a bill that would force internet companies to update their technical capacity to comply with a court order to intercept and unscramble internet communication in specific cases. 

This would include social networking sites and encrypted email transmitters. All companies would be required to put adequate technology in place so they could comply if asked, or face a $25,000 a day fine.
 FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III

The FBI didn’t succeed then and they’re pushing again for the same law to be put in place. Their rationale then and now is that methods of communication have evolved but their ability to pursue criminals hasn’t kept pace. Everybody knows about wiretapping and how to avoid it now so the FBI has lost its edge.

This is not Hollywood; the FBI will still need a court order just as they do for wiretapping, but it’s creating a firestorm of protest among IT companies and internet users. Both are bringing in the big paranoia guns, arguing that this is a big brother move which will make privacy even more of a joke and facilitate hackers. They’re also warning it will impact negatively on Silicon Valley and the US IT industry as a whole; that established IT companies and startups will gravitate to other countries without any controls. Which argument isn’t much different from the 1% protesting that if they have to pay taxes they’ll leave and the economy will collapse without them.

It's difficult to distinguish the difference between the real work that the FBI does in protecting society and the Hollywood version of a corrupt, inept, megalomaniac organization. It's also hard to know where sanity kicks in, in the war on terror, given that nobody really knows what happened on 9/11 and that the Iraq war was initiated on fabricated ‘evidence’. And that conservatives with an agenda and their media have played a huge role in cultivating paranoia.

It’s also impossible to know whether the FBI will abuse this capability or whether it will really help them pursue criminals. Probably both will happen. The firestorm is understandable but it isn’t logical. Everybody lived with wiretapping and if this bill passes everybody will get used to it too. In any case it’s ludicrous that companies like Google and Facebook would protest about people’s right to privacy. Personally I’d rather be guarded by the FBI than intruded upon by either of those two thugs. 

And right now the internet is the wild west; there aren’t any controls at all, so maybe it would be good to introduce some. What can anybody do if you’re the victim of internet crime? Absolutely nothing. So maybe this will actually facilitate not just catching terrorists but hackers, pedophiles and internet bank robbers.