The year was 1999 and the FBI was worried about
“going dark.”Although the Feds could, with court approval, access landlines across the country, it had no way of dealing with “emerging mobile and wired communication technologies.”
Basically, cell phones and internet applications.
To solve this problem, the FBI turned to Booz-Allen Hamilton, a consulting firm that was already responsible for the (secret) deployment of the Bureau’s DCS-3000 system for intercepting “telephony” content from service providers.
According to documents obtained over the last three years by the Electronic Frontier Foundation through Freedom Of Information Requests, Booz-Allen received a secret contract from the FBI to solve the “going dark” problem.
The contract specified Booz-Allen employees would “provide labour and services to support the specification, development, verification, operation, and maintenance of interim electronic surveillance systems for emerging wireless and wireline telecommunications technologies.”
The estimated cost for the updated systems was $1 million, but the final price came in at closer to $4 million.
Though Booz-Allen upgraded the system, it would soon prove unable to keep pace with the evolution of web technologies — for the next 14 years, the FBI continued to work with Booz-Allen on enhancing and upgrading the system.
And, believe it or not, the whole idea was completely legal.
The FBI was able to force service providers to install surveillance apparatus by means of the 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, but it had no way of monitoring third-party providers like Google or Facebook, notes Slates’s Joe Galagher.
In the end, which is present-day 2013, the FBI can ostensibly intercept Google communications through Internet Service Providers, they just can’t unencrypt those communications. Third-party communications companies are, as of now, exempt from CALEA.
(Gallagher contends that the Bereau is fighting a concerted fight to gain “content,” or backdoor, access to those systems. Security experts argue that building backdoors to citizens’ personal information will have dire consequences.)
Which leads us to the current controversy, PRISM, the means by which government agencies directly request the (unencrypted, in some or all cases, we don’t know) “content” of communications from these “third-party” companies.
Consequently, we wouldn’t know about PRISM if it weren’t for a leak from Booz-Allen, one of the originators of modern government surveillance systems.
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