The FBI has formed a secretive surveillance unit tasked with inventing technologies that will better enable police to eavesdrop on the Internet and wireless communications of American citizens, reports Declan McCullagh of CNET.The Domestic Communications Assistance centre (DCAC) – staffed with agents from the U.S. Marshals Service and Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) – is the FBI’s latest response to the “Going Dark” problem brought on by the shift of communication from telephones to the Internet that has made it more difficult for agents to wiretap Americans they suspect of illegal activities.
That’s not to say that the government has been unable to spy on Americans: the National Security Agency (NSA) intercepts 1.7 billion U.S. electronic communications every day and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is currently running a massive spying campaign on Occupy Wall Street.
The DCAC, which has already been given $54 million in funding by a Senate committee, will cover everything from “trying to intercept and decode Skype conversations” to “analysing the gigabytes of data that a wireless provider or social network might turn over” to building “customised surveillance technologies aimed at a specific individual or company,” according to CNET.
McCullagh notes that the DCAC and NSA make natural collaborators as the NSA previously hired two Israeli-linked contractors to bug the U.S. telecommunications network and is currently building a $2 billion Utah spy centre that will serve as a code-breaking hub for complex encryption system.
The FBI has struggled to break encryptions, so the Quantico, Va.-based unit will “facilitate the sharing of technology among law enforcement agencies” while providing “advice and guidance if they have difficulty in attempting to implement lawful electronic surveillance court orders,” according to a statement from the FBI to McCullagh.
But the legitimacy of those court orders are under serious scrutiny as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is currently suing the Department of Justice (DOJ) to compel it to follow a law that requires the DOJ to annually disclose to Congress the statistics about the use of powerful electronic surveillance tools (specifically pen registers and trap and trace devices) by law enforcement, reports Avinash Samarth of the Human Rights Program.
By simply filing a certification with a court stating that the information is “relevant to an ongoing criminal investigation,” the DOJ can obtain the phone numbers you call and that call you, the time each call is made, the length of each call, the email addresses you interact with, your IP address and the IP addresses of computers you connect with, and the addresses of the websites you visit.
The attorney general is required by law to submit a report to Congress every year cataloging each order and describing how the surveillance power was used (whereas the DHS doesn’t have to report anything).
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