FBI eyes P2P, webmail for wire tapping

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FBI eyes P2P, webmail for wire tapping

Lacks capability to exercise authority.

The United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has asked lawmakers to help it close the gap between its ability and authority to intercept web-based telecommunications services.

The FBI's general counsel Valerie Caproni last week singled out webmail, social networking sites and peer-to-peer as those services it cannot lawfully intercept under what the agency terms its "Going Dark" problem.

Making her case to a Judiciary Committee on terrorism and homeland security last week, Caproni cited a major drug importation investigation in 2009 in which of a former law enforcement officer "went to great lengths" to use such services to avoid wire taps.

The last major upgrade to US intercept laws occurred in 1994, prior to the rise of P2P telephony services such as Skype. The 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) covered internet telephony services interconnected with the public switched telephone network, but not web communications tools.

"As a result, although the government may obtain a court order authorising the collection of certain communications, it often serves that order on a provider who does not have an obligation under CALEA to be prepared to execute it," Caproni told the committee.

Caproni said the FBI had the "legal authority" to tap such services but not the "practical" means to force service providers to comply.

Australian authorities had intended to address this particular concern via the Telecommunications Interception and Intelligence Services Legislation Amendment Bill, which was supported by the Australian Federal Police Association but opposed by Australia's telecommunications carriers.

The bill would have required carriers to advise the Attorney General of new services thirty days prior to launch if such services could impact their ability to comply with an intercept order.

The bill was dropped from the Government's immediate agenda prior to the 2010 election campaign.

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