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FBI Seeking to Wiretap Internet
October 27, 2001 2:56 PM   Subscribe

FBI Seeking to Wiretap Internet "FBI has plans to change the architecture of the Internet and route traffic through central servers that it would be able to monitor e-mail more easily." (via InstaPundit)
posted by Mick (29 comments total)

 
Yeah, Instapundit's good, but too bad the site propagates the lie that if you have any criticism of the United States, you're anti-American, or that dissension is akin to neo-Nazism. Not altogether a clear thinker, is he?
posted by Mo Nickels at 3:29 PM on October 27, 2001


Personally, and I know I'm in the minority, I have no problem with the government listening in on me. Have at it. I figure, you only care if you have something to hide. I know I'm setting myself up to be slammed, but I honestly don't care. Listen away.
posted by msacheson at 3:37 PM on October 27, 2001


he was criticizing the FBI on the post I read, so you might be exaggerating a bit.

Anywho, this goes beyond the FBI listening in, this creates a central target for anyone who wanted to bring down the internet (and the economy and London Bridge).
posted by Mick at 3:43 PM on October 27, 2001


You aren't setting yourself up to be slammed, msacheson, but you are showing the level of thought you put into your political philosophy, as well as how much you value freedom, and civil rights.
posted by Doug at 3:44 PM on October 27, 2001


Let me alter that sentence to be in accordance with reality: "FBI has plans to be the primary backbone of the internet and route traffic through central points of inevitable failure that would be able to slow the internet to a crawl and maybe catch someone stupid enough to talk about thier criminal plans in an unencrypted email."

Thank you for your attention. For more, see slashdot thread on similar article with same kooky idea.

On the other hand if this happens ISPs can blame any slowness or failure on the internet on the FBI. Imagine the poor g-man in charge of the phone.
posted by ilsa at 3:49 PM on October 27, 2001


Well, what made the Internet possible was that it was a packet switching network. The underlying principle of which is that if you remove nodes from the distributed network, data will reroute around the missing nodes. Perfect, if your network is going to undergo a nuclear attach which seemed likely at some point when the current architecture was designed in the late 1960s.

So, it's good to see that the FBI wants to put all the data through a few central nodes. That defeats the whole damn architecture of the Internet. Sigh.

I figure, you only care if you have something to hide.

Oh? Then why do you send your postal mail in an envelope? And why is it a federal felony to tamper with the mail - such as opening envelopes that don't belong to you? People don't seem to have a problem with privacy in regards to postal mail, why is e-mail that much different? Encrypting email is simply putting it in an envelope.
posted by warhol at 4:00 PM on October 27, 2001


At some point, do we get our very own FBI agent, who follows us around and listens to all of our conversations, reads all of our emails, checks what we are watching on TV, the books we borrow from the library, the videos we rent, and the quality and content of our purchases?

Would they then have their own assigned FBI agent, who does all of that for them? And so on?

Do guardian angels have guardian angels?

If we continue in this direction, it is no longer outside invaders we have to worry about. May we have the strength of mind, conscience, and good sense to protect us from ourselves.
posted by bragadocchio at 4:02 PM on October 27, 2001


Beautiful, msacheson. You would have fit in perfectly in Nazi Germany.

After World War II most Germans protested that they did not know what went on in the heinous Nazi concentration camps. It is just possible that they did not. But this claim of ignorance did not absolve them from blame: they had complacently permitted Hitler to do his dirty business in the dark. They raised little objection, most even applauded when he closed their newspapers and clamped down on free speech. Certainly our leaders are not to be compared with Hitler, but today, because of onerous, unnecessary rules, Americans are not being permitted to see and hear the full story of what their military forces are doing in an action that will reverberate long into the nation's future.
-Walter Cronkite, in a 1991 article for Newsweek about the supression of the press in relation to military action in Saudi Arabia.

What luck for rulers, that men do not think.
-Adolph Hitler
posted by UrbanFigaro at 4:02 PM on October 27, 2001


Well with all these anthrax scares, maybe we should forget about privacy in our postal mail as well. If it will keep suspicious white powders out of our mailboxes, then by all means, let the FBI go wild with their letter openers. If you've done nothing wrong, you have nothing to hide. And what's all this nonsense about warrants and probable cause? Do you know how difficult it can be to establish probable cause? All these restrictions do is hinder law enforcement and keep criminals from justice. Get rid of them, I say, and allow the FBI unfettered access to our e-mails, our telephones, and our homes. If you've done nothing wrong, you have nothing to hide.

So why do I, who's done nothing wrong, suddenly feel like hiding?
posted by UnReality at 4:15 PM on October 27, 2001


And ask yourself this simple question: is there any real evidence that the September 11th terrorist attacks could have been prevented by granting federal, state and local law enforcement the sort of power for which they are now clamoring? If the FBI could have read everybody's e-mail back then, would that really have stopped a small militant group from bringing box cutters onboard a plane and crashing it? It's repeated ad nauseam, but Benjamin Franklin was right: "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."
posted by UnReality at 4:22 PM on October 27, 2001


What makes me shake my head isn't spooks with too many ideas and too few smarts or ethics, it's the way that ISPs just roll over and offer what seems like no resistance to demands for greater government access to customer's data.

Does anyone know of an ISP that has resisted turning over customer information on the basis of privacy violations?
posted by holycola at 4:24 PM on October 27, 2001


If the Nazis had never existed, who would we compare people we disagree with to?

"I just thought you should know that your statements bear a striking resemblance to those of ATTILA THE HUN!"
posted by Hildago at 4:27 PM on October 27, 2001


I frankly doubt the relevance of the FBI even taking on such a task. For a start, they haven't the resources or the logistics.

They're also very short on the competence front anyway. FBI jobs are very low-paying, especially in large urban markets, and even if an applicant can overlook the poor pay and abandon all hope of competence-based remuneration he/she must first fill out a personal background check that runs into the hundreds of pages before getting the chance of even applying for a position. Those silly guidelines have done little but insure that the best and brightest never get close to a job where they could improve national security.
posted by clevershark at 4:44 PM on October 27, 2001


Stewart Baker, an attorney at the Washington D.C.-based Steptoe & Johnson and a former general consul to National Security Agency, said the FBI has plans to change the architecture of the Internet and route traffic through central servers that it would be able to monitor e-mail more easily.

Who is this Baker and why are we paying so much attention to his speculations?

This isn't technically feasible without rebuilding it from scratch; any network geek could tell you that, even for the simple reason that no one owns the Internet. It's much more feasible to have electronic security 'bots cruising the Internet screening messages they hit.
posted by dness2 at 5:03 PM on October 27, 2001


Arrrrrrrgh!!! Slams head repeatedly into keyboard.
For those of your still wondering when we were going to start losing civil liberties, I'd say...about ten minutes ago. And it's not going to stop anytime soon. Furthermore, the people are going to eat it up, because they are laboring under the delusion that the warmongering, authoritarian thugs that are currently in power have their best interests at heart.

Jefferson said "The price of liberty is eternal vigilance." It would appear that the average citizen of this nation is vigilant about little other than the acquisition of material wealth, followed closely by this week's football scores.
I hope my fellow Americans enjoy those SUV's and other creature comforts that they use to define themselves as members of "civilized" society, because we're all going to end up paying dearly for them.

Americans seem willing to sit idly by and allow these demonstrably corrupt men to make an unimpeded power grab in the name of "protecting us from evildoers". Guess what, kids? It's a hard old world, and no one is going to cleanse it of evil. No one. It's ludicrous to suggest that such a thing is possible. And I find it even more ludicrous that a nation of reasonably literate people could tolerate that kind of simplistic blather from the individual that holds the power of life and death over so many, in this country and elsewhere.
posted by Optamystic at 5:14 PM on October 27, 2001


Technical feasibility arguments aside...

From the article: Now, though, the country is asking for more, not less, law enforcement on the Internet, and even those who once complained are coming around.

The country? I wish they'd define that term. Are they talking about the FBI? The clueless Congressmen? Certainly not many people I know are asking for more..In fact, they're screaming for less...


Personally, and I know I'm in the minority, I have no problem with the government listening in on me. Have at it. I figure, you only care if you have something to hide.

Nothing to hide? Removal of privacy is merely a setup punch. What happens when the government outlaws something you hold dear to your heart. Will you say the same thing then?

Privacy is something that most people don't value until they need it and can't have it.


If we continue in this direction, it is no longer outside invaders we have to worry about.

Whether or not you were aware of it, we've had much more to fear from internal watchers than external invaders for some time now...


For those of your still wondering when we were going to start losing civil liberties, I'd say...about ten minutes ago.

Heh, try three years ago with the DMCA...

No matter how many civil liberties we are forced to give up, the security gained will always be much smaller than that which we've lost. Think about that for a second.
posted by fooljay at 5:43 PM on October 27, 2001


I think a lot of us are in agreement on the privacy/freedom front, so I won't go into why I personally disagree with such a suggestion. However, I'd like to point out the subtle but prevalent bias inherent in this [FoxNews] article.
P3: The plans goes well beyond the Carnivore... which... generated so much controversy among privacy advocates and civil libertarians before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Um. So is the writer saying these advocates have suddenly lost all interest in protecting civil liberties? That seems... unlikely.

P7: Such a move might have been unthinkable before Sept. 11.
Uh. It's still unthinkable, at least among most of those who found it unthinkable as of September the 10th.

P8: Last year, privacy groups and civil libertarians howled in protest.
Howled in protest? That's seems an odd way of phrasing it; that syntax usually has the connotation of a silly or baseless protest.

P9: Now, though, the country is asking for more, not less, law enforcement on the Internet.
As was already noted, there isn't a shred of evidence supporting this, certainly not any referenced in this article.

P10: [Quoting] Fred Peterson, vice president of... the Xybernaut Corporation, which manufactures computer technology for military and law enforcement. "The past six weeks have left little doubt in most peoples’ mind... that new measures must be taken."
So Xybernaut makes computer technology for military and law enforcement, and the VP's coming out in favor of more computer technology for military and law enforcement? The shock! How is this not a headline story unto itself!? And who thought this guy would make a quotable source, anyway?

P12: Others are still skeptical, though not as much.
This is what passes for equal time, for "fair and balanced" reporting?

P18: most Internet companies aren’t healthy enough financially to take on the government... [a]nd no one, she says, wants to appear hostile to law enforcement right now. P20: In the current patriotic climate, enterprises of all types will likely play along with the FBI.
Once again, sounds like the hidden message is "Don't worry about this, since no one will stand up to it..."

Add it all up, and to me it appears that the writer is trying- consciously or unconsciously- to project the notion that civil liberties need to be shed, that no one is disagreeing with the suggestion to remove some civil liberties, and that all right thinking people agree such invasions of privacy are just, they are necessary, and they are inevitable.

This is why Walter Lippman, oh those many years ago, used the phrase "Manufacturing Consent"...
posted by hincandenza at 9:19 PM on October 27, 2001



hincandenza: i agree with your analysis completely. i had seen this article up well before it became a mefi link, thought about posting when i was a quarter way through, and decided not to by the time i finished it.

manufacturing consent, indeed.
posted by lescour at 9:33 PM on October 27, 2001


If the Nazis had never existed, who would we compare people we disagree with to?

The scale goes from Hitler to Mother Theresa. Hidalgo --where are you? [she waggles her eyebrows in an inquiring yet perhaps sinister manner]

Nice analysis hincandenza.
posted by amanda at 9:44 PM on October 27, 2001


Not only is the right to privacy the best method to keep meddlers out of your business it also protects you from thougtless legislation and victimless crimes. In a world were wiretaps are given without warrants and mined data is admissible in court expect a weekly big brother type email like this:

1. You wrote your wife that you drove back from work in a hurry and made it home before 5:30 pm. This is impossible without breaking the speed limit, here is your citation.

2. You were overheard telling a friend that you smoked pot and gave some away one more than one occasion 4 years ago. The statute of limitations has not expired, a warrant for your arrest has been issued.

3. You clicked on an EULA that states that the software cannot be used in a business. A packet sniff showed that you emailed the file you created at home with that software to your work email and viewed it. You are expected to be sued soon as we have already notified the copyright holders.

and so on. Sure its a little over the top 1984 style, but if minor offenses like speeding and parking can be turning into a multi-million dollar industry by a major city why shouldn't the state and federal government do the same thing when you're willing to give up your privacy? Toss in government and industry collusion and you could have a big mess on your hands.
posted by skallas at 12:01 AM on October 28, 2001


bragadocchio Do guardian angels have guardian angels?

Actually the question is: Who watches the watchers?
posted by signal at 12:35 AM on October 28, 2001


Signal, nice artwork - those old covers bring back memories of an uncle who worked in newspaper distribution and brought many of those comics home to my cousin who shared them with me. Of course, the latest to address that question in that medium probed into the nature of the watchmen.

But, I was just thinking, if I had to have someone watching over my shoulder as I tried to go about my life, I would prefer this guardian angel over this one. ("Uncrackable encryption will allow drug lords, spies, terrorists and even violent gangs to communicate about their crimes and their conspiracies with impunity.") Of course, with Mr. Freeh's defection from the ranks of the FBI to the MBNA, that might be less likely.

Fooljay,

Whether or not you were aware of it, we've had much more to fear from internal watchers than external invaders for some time now...

My greatest fear isn't gaining the antipathy of government, but rather being caught within the mindless machinations of its bureaucracy. An attempt to filter through every email (metaFBIfilter?) seems like a waste of time, talent, and taxpayer's dollars. Aren't there better ways to pursue terrorist activities than to cast a net (no pun intended) so wide that you need more fisherman than you have fish?

As to a fear of losing civil liberties, sometimes fear can be a good thing. It helps us remember how much we hold something valuable dear. Criticism and exercising freedom of speech is great. Getting involved with the political process, and working to effect positive change to defend those liberties is even better. "We the People" is us. We have to let our elected officials know how we feel. And if they don't listen, we have to find people who will, or try to take that task upon ourselves.
posted by bragadocchio at 1:30 AM on October 28, 2001


Trying to centralise the internet will destroy it and make it a centralnet. Then it will be much more volatile to a terrorist attack. And as seen in this thread there are more people defending the liberty of the current internet than the dubious gain of safety by centralising it and tapping all communication.

And I am sure there are people who would defend liberty up till their blood. That means the FBI would create new terrorists instead of getting rid of the old ones. And I must say I would at least sympathise with terrorists who defended freedom and privacy.

Giving up privacy is giving up our current democratic society. And will lead us back into a totalitarian state like the "real socialist" former East Germany. Where potentially everybody was surveying everybody. Where you could not even trust your own family members. Where you could not say what you thought of the government without being put into prison. Where the government received 99% of the "votes". Where it was almost a crime not to "vote" for the government.

At some point, do we get our very own FBI agent
Worse, we will be all FBI agents. And even worse paid probably ;-)
posted by alex63 at 6:06 AM on October 28, 2001


J. Edgar Hoover's files were limited by the technology of his day--think what he could accumulate now!
posted by Carol Anne at 6:45 AM on October 28, 2001


There are many, many reasons why internet communications should be kept away from government bodies, not least industrial espionage. There have already been accusations in Europe that the US is spying on European businesses. If all communications to the US have to go through central servers, that makes the job a lot easier. The internet isn't owned by any one country or government, irrespective of where the hardware is situated, and no one country should be able to manipulate the flow of information. The UK is desperate to do something similar, as well as insisting on encyrption keys on demand, and will probably face little opposition, mostly because MPs are totally ignorant of how the Internet works.
posted by Summer at 6:50 AM on October 28, 2001


The big question mark for me is when people will wake up to the realization that all of these moves will hurt them in the long run. The "they can read my email, I have nothing to hide" comments really speak to the lack of understanding by Americans as a whole. The dissmissive disdain exhibited by some who call those who are concerned "X-Filers" is disheartening. I'm not just fighting for my civil liberties, I'm fighting for theirs as well. When people give implicit consent for these actions through silence, they give up not only their own freedom, but mine as well.

That is intolerable.

When enough rights have been taken away and the concept of privacy has been whittled down to a threadbare existence, everyone will be civil libertarians.

At that point, it will be too late... That saddens me...
posted by fooljay at 10:27 AM on October 28, 2001


When enough rights have been taken away and the concept of privacy has been whittled down to a threadbare existence, everyone will be civil libertarians.
<sarcasm>
yeah, but this is an emergency, man! like, it's terrorists, man! fuck civil rights and free speech, man, we gotta kill us some terrorists, man! besides, war is doubleplusgood for oil barons, man
</sarcasm>
posted by quonsar at 4:20 PM on October 28, 2001


not too surprised to hear Fox "News" chime in on the side of "personal liberties - who needs 'em anyway?" (thanks hincandenza for making the point line by line).

My read on the Fibbies' plans to read email have them cooperating with the largest ISPs, which is a hell of a lot more possible than trying to nationalize the backbone (yes, that's what it would require - law and order conservatives, listen up, they'd have to do this at the expense of Private Industry and its Shareholders). It's also not too troubling if you think about it.

I'm afraid we (civil libertarians) are ignoring a fundamental fact about human nature: that is it is very hard to make people care about something they don't already (unless you mention The Children in certain circles), doubly so if it means they have to a) give up conveniences they're used to or b) actually do something.

If people really want to give up their civil liberties, fine, let 'em. I've no problem if Joe Sixpack wants to use unencrypted email, send in his tax returns stapled to a postage card, or paint his medical records in excruciating and graphic detail on the surface of his house. Just as long as Uncle Sam doesn't expect me to do so.

So suppose the Feds hook up with AOL (plus their Roadrunner service through subcorp Time Warner), MSN, AT&T, and Earthlink. They sign four business deals, Carnivore 'em up, and suddenly they're tapped into a significant majority of the SMTP traffic in the United States (plus a fair hunk of international mail traffic as well, but to simplify the argument I'll presume the rest of the world will go along with the American domestic security forces reading their mail lest they risk appearing "against us"). Don't want the feds reading your mail? Fine. Sign up with a private encrypted-email-only provider (Hushmail is one, and there'll be others too, if the Feds succeed as above) or run your own mail server (which really isn't that hard). Encrypt your mail end-to-end. As long as the encrypted providers are small enough, the Feds won't care. (Unless of course they succeed in making encryption illegal, which I fear but doubt). It's a little inconvenient, yes, but worth it to those of us who care - a little inconvenience is a tiny price to pay for essential liberty.
posted by Vetinari at 9:14 AM on October 29, 2001


If people really want to give up their civil liberties, fine, let 'em. I've no problem if Joe Sixpack wants to use unencrypted email, send in his tax returns stapled to a postage card, or paint his medical records in excruciating and graphic detail on the surface of his house. Just as long as Uncle Sam doesn't expect me to do so.

That, of course, is the problem... The Government will care because the terrorists will move to the same place as the civil libs.. Hence, we must all be stopped...
posted by fooljay at 12:29 PM on October 29, 2001


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