Let’s get something straight: If the US government wants information about you, it’ll find a way to obtain it. But in most cases, Feds need a warrant to gain access to your private information. All of this could change if the Federal Bureau of Investigation gets its way.
The FBI is asking internet companies like Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo and Google to not oppose an amendment to the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act of 1994 (CALEA) that would give federal agencies, like the FBI, backdoor access to social networking sites and other online services. The reason the government wants this access? CNET reports that it’s because “the internet has made it far more difficult for agents to wiretap Americans suspected of illegal activities.”
Currently, CALEA only applies to telecommunications companies and broadband networks, but has no effect on social networks. With communication moving more online, the government apparently feels that it needs another way to monitor suspicious activity because wiretapping phones (land-lines and cellular) isn’t as effective as it once was. The amendment the FBI is lobbying Web companies to support would give federal agencies unfettered access to online services like Facebook, Gmail and Skype.
I don’t know about you, but I’m already a pretty paranoid person when it comes to the notion of Big Brother. Everything I do online is kept as private as it can be to ensure it only reaches the eyes of those intended. And sorry, Uncle Sam, that doesn’t include you. While I’m sure the idea of “wiretap-ready” social networks was developed with the best of intentions, it just adds more fuel to the online privacy fire. The Stop Online Piracy Act and PROTECT IP Act were both defeated earlier this year because of the privacy-breaching powers they would have given the government. We also have the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act of 2011 to worry about, which recently passed through the House of Representatives and is on its way to the Senate. Add in an amendment to CALEA and we have a government who is able and willing to obtain nearly any digital information they desire, without more than a few clicks of a mouse.
If the last few months have shown us anything, it’s that tuned-in internet users have finally taken a step to stand up for their privacy rights. The internet is the Wild West of 2012, and as Wired points out, damn-near everyone has been hacked at one point or another. Anonymous has hacked government and private website and other more nefarious groups have attacked countless other websites, and while the government should be able to regulate and monitor online threats, it should not be able to do so at the expense of all users.
We want to know what you think about this. Do you think the government should be able to gain “backdoor access” to our data on social networks under the facade of monitoring suspected criminals or is there another way to tackle the problem?