Web Wiretaps Raise Security, Privacy Concerns Companies that offer Web-based e-mail or social networking can't always cooperate with court-ordered surveillance. That's because it's not always possible to create built-in eavesdropping systems, and those back doors can leave computers vulnerable to hacking and non-government spying.
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Web Wiretaps Raise Security, Privacy Concerns

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Web Wiretaps Raise Security, Privacy Concerns

Web Wiretaps Raise Security, Privacy Concerns

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MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

But now, in an age of Skype and instant messaging, things are trickier. And as NPR's Martin Kaste reports, law enforcement says it needs help.

MARTIN KASTE: Federal law already requires tech companies to cooperate with court-ordered surveillance. The problem, says FBI general counsel Valerie Caproni, is that the companies that offer things like Web mail or social networking sometimes can't cooperate.

NORRIS: What we're finding - and it's not universally the case across the board - but what we're seeing is they do not have intercept solutions available for all of the types of services that they're offering for people to use to communicate.

KASTE: The FBI, the Commerce Department and the various spy agencies have been meeting for months to discuss possible legislation, and there has been a preliminary hearing on the subject in the House of Representatives.

NORRIS: It was a very weird hearing.

KASTE: Computer engineer Susan Landau was there to give testimony. But she says it was hard to offer analysis because the administration is being vague. For instance, the FBI won't specify which Internet systems are at issue because it says it doesn't want to advertise its blind spots.

NORRIS: They just haven't detailed their problems.

KASTE: I mean, are you convinced there is a concrete problem right now?

NORRIS: I'm convinced that there are, on occasion, problems. How bad these are, it's hard to know.

KASTE: And the danger isn't just hypothetical. She points to a case in Greece where software on the cell phone network meant for lawful eavesdropping ended up allowing somebody to spy on the prime minister and other officials.

NORRIS: Somebody went into the switch and wiretapped these hundred senior officials for a period of 10 months. It was discovered when a text message went awry, and quickly stopped. But we still, to this day, don't know who did it.

KASTE: And then there's the problem of the Internet's decentralization. It's one thing to regulate a handful of phone companies, but when it comes to all the different ways you can chat online, it's hard even to keep track of them all. And some aren't even run by companies.

NORRIS: My name is Jacob Appelbaum, and I'm a developer of the Tor project. It helps to anonymize people, and to keep them safe and private on the Internet.

KASTE: He says if the government ever told him to build an eavesdropping function into Tor, he'd refuse.

NORRIS: Oh, I mean, I would leave the country. I would not be in a country that was so hostile to people having personal autonomy and liberty.

KASTE: Martin Kaste, NPR News.

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