It's no big secret that the FBI wants a backdoor to every American website planted on the Internet. However the government agency now wants the secret entrance unlocked as soon as possible -- like right this minute -- because the drastic shift from using telephones to using the Internet has made it nearly impossible for agents to wiretap Americans suspected of foul play. The bureau calls it a "Going Dark" problem, as its surveillance capabilities may diminish as technology advances if things don't change.
According to CNET, the FBI general council's office has drafted a proposed law that requires social networking websites and providers of email, instant messaging and VoIP to alter their services with additional code to make them "wiretap friendly." However the requirement to add the FBI's code will only apply if a threshold of a certain number of users is exceeded.
If passed, the proposal would amend the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, or CALEA, which was established back in 1994. It currently applies only to telecommunications providers, not Web companies. The Federal Communications Commission extended CALEA in 2004 to apply to broadband networks.
Disclosure documents filed with Congress two weeks ago revealed that Apple, which provides iChat and FaceTime for iOS devices, is currently lobbying on the backdoor topic. Microsoft, which owns both Skype and Hotmail, told CNET that its lobbyists are following the topic because it's "an area of ongoing interest to us." Google, Yahoo, and Facebook would not comment on the topic.
Going Dark has reportedly been an issue in Washington since 2006, and the bureau eventually hired on 107 full-time workers in 2009 to work on the issue. The FBI has supposedly even sought input from the its secretive Operational Technology Division in Quantico, Va., a division that claims to be working on the "latest and greatest investigative technologies to catch terrorists and criminals."
For now the legislation has been approved by the Department of Justice, but the White House could ruin the FBI's backdoor plans. That's because the bureau's amendments to CALEA so far have not been sent to Capital Hill by the Obama Administration. Without an approval by the White House -- which was expected to arrive last year -- the bill will likely not be passed into law.
In addition to the FBI's move, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is considering reinterpreting CALEA so that products ranging from Skype to Google Hangouts will include backdoors to help solve the "Going Dark" problem. Christopher Canter, lead compliance counsel at the Marashlian and Donahue law firm (which specializes in CALEA), said that they have noticed a "massive uptick" in the amount of FCC CALEA inquiries and enforcement proceedings within the last year, most of which are intended to address 'Going Dark' issues.
"This generally means that the FCC is laying the groundwork for regulatory action," he said.