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01 November 2010, 09:46

US civil rights organisation prepares for new 'crypto war'

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EFF Logo The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) reports that it has filed lawsuits against three agencies of the US Department of Justice demanding the release of documents justifying the need for stronger internet surveillance measures. The civil rights organisation justifies its action by citing the head of the FBI, who has publicly claimed that it is necessary to install back doors in electronic communication systems in order to preserve the ability of the security services to intercept information. The FBI is now being called on to provide evidence of the posited gaps in protection. The EFF is also using the Freedom of Information Act to demand examples from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Department of Justice Criminal Division that show their staff have been impeded in performing surveillance of online communications by the lack of these requested measures.

The EFF has been prompted to take action by reports that the government is working on a law to make it easier to eavesdrop on internet telephony, encrypted email and instant messaging (IM). The legislation would require developers of peer-to-peer (P2P) communications solutions, such as instant messaging or internet telephony applications, to design their applications to be susceptible to surveillance. The FBI wants suppliers and ISPs to ensure that investigators can be provided with plain text versions of all messages. The EFF sees echoes of the 'crypto war' in the 1990s, when government agencies spent several years demanding either, the integration of deliberate vulnerabilities into, or the provision of spare keys for, cryptographic products. The EFF has reiterated its arguments from the debate held at that time – that the plans create security risks, will not stop criminals and will harm law-abiding businesses and citizens.

An EFF lawyer stated that the Obama government's plans "would have enormous privacy and security ramifications for American Internet users." She believes that proper debate needs to be based on the information which the EFF has now requested and which Washington has so far refused to provide. The agencies against which the EFF has filed lawsuits are also being requested to provide information on any talks already held with technology companies, industry associations or Congress, on expansion to surveillance legislation. The EFF believes that a thorough and realistic evaluation is required in order to determine whether the absence of back doors is genuinely impeding investigators.

(Stefan Krempl)

(Stefan Krempl / crve)

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