FBI: Monitoring Skype and Gmail are "top priority" in 2013

It is a well known fact that the FBI can find out almost anything about you in a matter of minutes. It is also a well known fact that the FBI can monitor all of your online communication. What the FBI can't do, however, is monitor you in real time. Services such as Google Voice, Gmail and Dropbox are all available to the FBI, but after a certain period of time - which may already be too late. 

At a talk in Washington, D.C, FBI general counsel, Andrew Weissmann, said that being able to monitor Gmail, Google Voice and Dropbox, among other services, was now a "top priority" for the FBI as terrorists move online to discuss their plans. The reason the FBI cannot effectively monitor email and social networks is because of the 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) which allows the government to force Internet providers and phone companies to install surveillance software onto their network, but does not cover email, cloud services (like SkyDrive or Dropbox) or chat providers, like Skype.

According to Weissmann, the FBI want the power to mandate the surveillance of anything from Google Voice to online Scrabble (a hotspot for terrorist communication, according to Weissmann). 

The government can currently request that companies provide "technical assistance necessary to accomplish the interception" under the Title III "Wiretap Act". According to Valerie Caproni, Weissmann's predecessor, the current system does not provide an "effective lever" to force companies to set up surveillance measures.

The FBI has a problem with Gmail, as it is sent from the user's computer to Google's servers, while encrypted with an SSL-level encryption. This makes it very difficult for the FBI to effectively monitor communication without Google's consent. Google, however, is happy to give their consent. A Google spokesperson told Slate: "CALEA doesn't apply to Gmail but an order under the Wiretap Act may. At some point we may expand our transparency report to cover this topic in more depth, but until then I'm not able to provide additional information." 

Skype has also come under the spotlight, providing a secure way to chat. Skype is owned by Microsoft, and we reached out to them to ask if Microsoft would comply with FBI requests to view Skype conversations in real time; we will update the article if we hear back.  

Weissmann said that the FBI is currently working with "members of the intelligence community" as this is a matter of "top priority this year." The FBI doesn't plan to be closed about this, with Weissmann saying that "there should be a public debate about [about this]." 

Source: Slate | Image via WallSave.com 

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