CyberWire Dispatch // Copyright (c) 1994 //

Jacking in from a "Private No More" Port:

Washington, DC -- If privacy isn't already the first victim of roadkill along the information superhighway, then it's about to be.

A law enforcement panel addressing the Administration's Information Infrastructure Task Force Working Group on Privacy told a public meeting here last week that it wanted to "front load" the National Information Infrastructure with trap door technologies that would allow them to easy access to digital conversations; eavesdropping on any conversation or capturing electronic communications midstream.

But only for "the bad guys." Us honest, hard working, law abiding citizens have nothing to fear from these law enforcement agencies selling out our privacy rights to make their jobs easier. Nope, we can rest easy, knowing that child pornographers, drug traffickers and organized crime families will be sufficiently thwarted by law enforcement's proposed built-in gadgetry for the national information infrastructure.

There's just a small problem: Law enforcement agencies, any law enforcement agency, has yet to prove it needs all these proposed digital trap doors. In fact, according to a U.S. Assistant Attorney appearing on the panel, "Right now most law enforcement personnel don't have any idea what the NII is."

Gore Gives Go Ahead

Panel members, representing the Justice Dept., FBI and U.S. Attorney's office, said that they took Vice President Gore's promise that the White House would work to ensure that the NII would "help law enforcement agencies thwart criminals and terrorists who might use advanced telecommunications to commit crimes," as tacit approval of their proposals to push for digital wiretap access and government mandated encryption policies.

Gore buried those remarks deep in a speech he made in Los Angeles earlier this month when the Administration first fleshed out how it planned to rewrite the rules for communications in a newer, perhaps more enlightened age. Those remarks went unnoticed by the mainstream press. But readers here were forewarned.

Fuck Ross Perot's NAFTA-induced "giant sucking sound." That "thump" you just heard was Law Enforcement running over the privacy rights of the American public on its way to the information superhighway. The real crime is that the collision barely dented the damn fender.

This cunning and calculated move by law enforcement to install interception technologies all along the information superhighway was blithely referred to as "proactive" law enforcement policy by Assistant U.S. Attorney, Northern Dist. of California Kent Walker. Designing these technologies into future networks, which include all telephone systems, would ensure that law enforcement organizations "have the same capabilities that we all enjoy right now," Walker said.

With today's wiretap operations, the Feds must get a court to approve their request, but only after supplying enough evidence warrant one. But Walker seemed to be lobbying for the opposite. Giving the Feds the ability to listen in first and give justification later was "no big difference," he said. Besides, "it would save time and money."

It's Us vs. Them

For Walker privacy issues weighed against law enforcement needs are black and white, or rather "good guys" vs. "bad guys." For example, he said the rapid rise of private (read: non-government controlled) encryption technologies didn't mean law enforcement would have to work harder. On the contrary, "it only means we'll catch less criminals," he said.

But if law enforcement is merely concerned with the task of "just putting the bad guys in jail," as James Settle, head of the FBI's National Computer Crime Squad states, then why are we seeing an unprecedented move by government intelligence agencies into areas they have historically shied from? Because law enforcement agencies know their window of opportunity for asserting their influence is right now, right at the time the government is about to take on a fundamental shift in how it deals privacy issues within the networks that make up the NII, says David Sobel, general counsel for Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility (CPSR), who also spoke as a panel member.

"Because of law enforcement's concerns (regarding digital technologies), we're seeing an unprecedented involvement by federal security agencies in the domestic law enforcement activities," Sobel said.

Sobel dropped-kicked this chilling fact from behind the closed doors of the Clinton Administration into the IITF's lap: For the first time in history, the National Security Agency (NSA) "is now deeply involved in the design of the public telecommunications network."

Go ahead. Read it again.

Sobel backs up his claims with hundreds of pages of previously classified memos and reports obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. The involvement of the NSA in the design of our telephone networks is, Sobel believes, a violation of federal statutes.

Sobel's also concerned that the public might soon be looking down the throat of a classified telecommunications standard being created. Another move he calls "unprecedented," is that if the NSA, FBI and other law enforcement organizations have their way, the design of the national telecommunications network will end up classified and withheld from the public.

Sobel is dead bang on target with his warnings.

The telecommunications industry and FBI have set up an ad hoc working group to see if a technical fix for digital wiretapping can be found to make the Bureau happy. That way, legislation doesn't need to be passed that might mandate such FBI access and stick the Baby Bells with eating the full cost of reengineering their networks.

This joint group was formed during a March 26, 1992 meeting at FBI's Quantico, Va., facilities, according previously classified FBI documents released under Freedom of Information Act. The group was only formalized late last year, working under the auspices of the Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions (ATIS). The joint industry-FBI group operates under the innocuous sounding name of the Electronic Communications Service Provider Committee (ECSPC).

The ECSPC meets monthly with intent of seeking a technological "solution" to the FBI's request for putting a trap door into digital switches that would allow them easy access to those conversations. To date, no industry solution has been found for the digital wiretap problem, according to Kenneth Raymond, a Nynex telephone company engineer, who is the industry co-chairman of the group.

Oh, there's also a small, but nagging problem: The FBI hasn't provided a concrete basis that such solutions are needed, Raymond said. CPSR's Sobel raised these same points during the panel discussion.

The telecommunications industry is focused on "trying to evaluate just what is the nature of the [digital access] problem and how we can best solve it in some reasonable way that is consistent with cost and demand," Raymond said. One solution might be to write digital wiretap access into future switch specifications, he said.

If and when the industry does find that solution, do you think the FBI will put out a press release to tell us about it? "I doubt it very much," said FBI agent Barry Smith with the Bureau's Congressional Affairs office. "It will be done quietly, with no media fanfare."

Is it just me or are these headlights getting REALLY close?

The FBI's Settle is also adamant about trap door specifications being written into any blue prints for the National Information Infrastructure. But there's a catch. Settle calls these "security measures," because they'll give his office a better chance at "catching bad guys." He wants all networks "to be required to install some kind of standard for security." And who's writing those standards? You guessed it: The NSA with input from the FBI and other assorted spook agencies.

Settle defends these standards saying that the "best we have going for us is that the criminal element hasn't yet figured out how to use this stuff [encryption and networks in general]. When they do, we'll be in trouble. We want to stay ahead of the curve."

In the meantime, his division has to hustle. The FBI currently has only 25 "net literate" personnel, Settle admitted. "Most of these were recruited 2 years ago," he said. Most have computer science degrees and were systems administrators at time, he said.

You think that's funny? Hell, the Net is a still small community, relatively speaking. One of your friends is probably an FBI Net Snitch, working for Settle. Don't laugh.

Don't Look Now, Your Privacy Is Showing

The law enforcement establishment doesn't think you really know what you expect when it comes to privacy.

U.S. Attorney Walker says: "If you ask the public, 'Is privacy more important than catching criminals?' They'll tell you, 'No.'"

(Write him with your own thoughts, won't you?)

Because of views like Walker's, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) "needs to be broader," said Mike Godwin, legal services counsel, for Electronic Frontier Foundation, speaking as a panel member. The ECPA protects transmitted data, but it also needs to protect stored data, he said. "A person's expectation of privacy doesn't end when they store something on a hard disk."

But Walker brushed Godwin aside saying, "It's easy to get caught up in the rhetoric that privacy is the end all be all."

Do you have an expectation of privacy for things you store on your hard disk, in your own home? Walker says that idea is up for debate: "Part of this working group is to establish what is a reasonable expectation of privacy."

That's right. Toss everything you know or thought you knew about privacy out the fucking window, as you cruise down the fast lane of the information superhighway. Why? Because for people like Walker, those guardians of justice, "There has to be a balance between privacy needs and law enforcement needs to catch criminals," he says.

Balance, yes. Total abrogation of my rights? Fat chance.

Meeks out...