With the Federal Bureau of Investigation's recent push for web wiretaps and increased Internet surveillance, the U.S. seems to be edging closer to the fictional state described in George Orwell's "1984."
As CNET reported earlier this week, the FBI recently created a secret web-surveillance unit, the Domestic Communications Assistance Center, aimed at creating tech that would allow the authorities to more easily eavesdrop on Internet and wireless communications. The DCAC will act as hub for all web surveillance, but will not be directly involved in executing Internet wiretapping court orders or operating investigations if proposed legislation passes as planned.
The DCAC is a collaborative effort between the FBI, U.S. Marshals Service and the Drug Enforcement Agency. According to CNET, the center will not only be responsible for developing new wiretapping tech and analyzing court ordered data, but will also be charged with tracking and decoding Skype conversations.
The DCAC is a brick-and-mortar product of the FBI's "Going Dark" Internet wiretapping program. As more calls are taking place online through voice over IP (VoIP) services like Skype, the FBI, in particular, has made it quite clear that it is not happy with the difficulty of monitoring these types of conversations.
In order to bypass this obstacle, the FBI is asking Internet companies to go along with legislation that would require web companies like Facebook, Google and Skype to make their platforms "wiretapping-friendly." The proposed legislation is an amendment to a 1994 law, the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, which only applies to telecommunications companies.
Although the Federal Communications Commission extended the law to apply to broadband networks in 2004, the FBI is seeking to expand it even further. So far, the proposed amendment has been approved by the Department of Justice, but has yet to be introduced in the legislature.
Attorneys who work in the Internet privacy industry are skeptical the FBI's proposed amendment will find much success.
"Unlike the Patriot Act, which was enacted shortly after 9/11, unless the FBI can show current immediate concern for harm, it will be a difficult initiative to push through," Marc Roth, an attorney at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, told TechNewsWorld. He added that the FBI will likely see great opposition from civil liberties groups.
By requiring mandatory backdoors within social networking sites, VoIP services and messaging programs, the FBI would be able to quickly and easily tap into any online communications.
The purpose and rationale of the DCAC, which is also referred to as the National Domestic Communications Assistance Center or NDCAC, was outlined in FBI General Counsel Valerie Caproni's February 2011 testimony before a House Judiciary Committee.
In a statement sent to CNET's Declan McCullagh, the FBI summed up the description of the DCAC (used herein as NDCAC) as follows:
The NDCAC will have the functionality to leverage the research and development efforts of federal, state, and local law enforcement with respect to electronic surveillance capabilities and facilitate the sharing of technology among law enforcement agencies. Technical personnel from other federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies will be able to obtain advice and guidance if they have difficulty in attempting to implement lawful electronic surveillance court orders.
Funding for the DCAC is provided under the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill for fiscal year 2012. In sum, Congress allocated $8,244,000 and 13 positions for operation of the center.
Photos Of Strangle Victim
In December 2010, a former New York EMT, Mark Musarella, pleaded guilty to charges of misconduct and disorderly conduct, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/12/10/mark-musarella-emt-admits_n_795227.html" target="_hplink">according to the AP</a>. "Prosecutors say Musarella responded to a March 30, 2009, emergency call in Staten Island, where he snapped a picture of a woman who had been strangled. He then posted the image on [Facebook], <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/12/10/mark-musarella-emt-admits_n_795227.html" target="_hplink">the AP also writes</a>.
Risqué Photo Swap
In July 2011, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/22/joseph-bernard-campbell-stole-nude-photos_n_906975.html" target="_hplink">Joseph Bernard Campbell said he would plead guilty</a> to charges of cyberstalking and unauthorized access to a computer. "At least 19 women were victimized by a computer hacker who broke into their email accounts, captured risqué photographs of the women and then swapped them for the women's Facebook profile pictures, authorities say," <a href="http://www2.tbo.com/news/breaking-news/2011/jul/20/3/computer-hacker-places-risque-photos-of-women-on-t-ar-245211/" target="_hplink">reports Tampa Bay Online</a>.
'Attack A Teacher Day' Event
In Carson City, Nevada a group of six girls (ages 12 to 13) were arrested in January 2011 for allegedly posting threatening comments on the wall of a Facebook event titled "<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/01/07/attack-a-teacher-day-face_n_806126.html" target="_hplink">Attack A Teacher Day</a>." <a href="http://www.nevadaappeal.com/article/20110106/NEWS/110109788/1070&ParentProfile=1058" target="_hplink">According to the Nevada Appeal</a>, posts apparently written by the girls contained the word "attack." "All of the girls said it was just a joke," Carson City Sheriff's Deputy Jessica Rivera <a href="http://www.nevadaappeal.com/article/20110106/NEWS/110109788/1070&ParentProfile=1058" target="_hplink">told the Appeal</a>.
In April 2011, two preteen girls from a Seattle suburb were charged with cyberstalking and first-degree computer trespassing. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/27/facebook-cyberstalking-preteen-girls-charged_n_854605.html" target="_hplink">Reuters reports</a> that the girls "allegedly post[ed] sexually explicit photos and comments on the Facebook page of a 12-year-old classmate" and were "accused of using the third girl's computer address to send out instant message solicitations for sex using her name."
London Eley of Philadelphia allegedly used Facebook to find and hire someone to kill Corey White, the father of her child. "I will pay somebody a stack to kill my baby father," Eley wrote, <a href="http://abclocal.go.com/wpvi/story?section=news/crime&id=8188762" target="_hplink">according 6ABC.com</a>. A man named Timothy Bynum allegedly accepted Eley's offer, writing, "say no more," "what he look like?" and "need dat stack 1st," <a href="http://abclocal.go.com/wpvi/story?section=news/crime&id=8188762" target="_hplink">reports 6ABC.com</a>. White alerted the authorities to the alleged correspondence between Eley and Bynum, both of whom were taken into custody in June 2011. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/17/corey-white_n_929332.html#s332101&title=Corey_White" target="_hplink">White was shot in August</a> while Eley and Bynum remained in jail.
After days of riots and looting rocked U.K. cities earlier in August, <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-14488055" target="_hplink">the BBC reported</a> that authorities had arrested several people for allegedly inciting violence via Facebook posts. <a href="http://www.zdnet.com/blog/facebook/uk-police-arrests-10-more-over-facebook-posts-inciting-riots/2505?tag=content;siu-container" target="_hplink">According to ZDNET</a>, Scotland Yard had said it would seek out individuals believed to have written "really inflammatory, inaccurate" Facebook messages. By the end of August, nearly 2,000 had been arrested in connection with the riots, <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/aug/21/uk-riots-nearly-2000-arrested" target="_hplink">reports the Guardian</a>.
In April 2011, Houston police apprehended four suspects in a bank robbery case. Police said that suspicious Facebook posts led them to connect the group, including two bank tellers, to the heist. The following are among the alleged Facebook posts, <a href="http://www.chron.com/news/houston-texas/article/4-arrested-in-Houston-bank-heist-after-boasts-on-1691864.php" target="_hplink">according to the Houston Chronicle</a>: ""Get $$$" and "'WIPE MY TEETH WITH HUNDEREDS [sic]."
List Ranking Girls
An Illinois teenager was arrested in May 2011 for allegedly distributing (via Facebook) a provocative list that <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/05/12/high-school-sex-ranking-list_n_860779.html" target="_hplink">ranked the physical appearance of 50 girls from his high school</a>. According to the <em><a href="http://www.suntimes.com/5294285-417/oak-park-police-charge-boy-who-allegedly-made-sex-ranking-list.html" target="_hplink">Chicago Sun Times</a></em>, the list in question "described the girls by explicit, derogatory nicknames and assessed their physical appearance, sexual desirability, sexual activity and other characteristics". <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/05/12/high-school-sex-ranking-list_n_860779.html" target="_hplink">The Associated Press lists nicknames</a> like "Fallen Angel," "Blond Bombshell" and "The Hangover." "He obviously offended people but he also has a right to free speech," criminal defense attorney Mark Gottesman<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/05/12/high-school-sex-ranking-list_n_860779.html" target="_hplink"> told The Huffington Post</a>.
In September 2010, <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/facebook-status-read-engaged-cops-call-statutory-rape/story?id=11626836" target="_hplink">Robert Nickson Jr, a 27 year-old Pennsylvania man was arrested</a> for an alleged relationship with a 14-year-old girl. <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/facebook-status-read-engaged-cops-call-statutory-rape/story?id=11626836" target="_hplink">Writes ABC News</a>: <blockquote>A Delaware County Criminal Investigation Division's special task force, nicknamed Operation Triad, which investigates child pornography and predators, was tipped off by the county's child welfare agency after Nickson posted photos of himself and the girl online. </blockquote>
Threats On Officials
Former U.S. Congress candidate Cheryl Allen was arrested and charged in January 2011 for reportedly threatening several civil servants. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/01/15/cheryl-allen-charged-with_n_809596.html" target="_hplink">According to the Associated Press,</a> "The alleged threats mentioned four Morgan County judges, and other public officials [...] were mentioned by first name. Media reports said Allen had previously filed a discrimination lawsuit that was dismissed by a judge."
In late January 2011, a group of four Florida teens, ages 13 through 14, were arrested at their school for allegedly directing threats towards another classmate via Facebook. "Mistakenly believing that a middle school classmate had caused the arrest of a friend, a quartet of Florida teenagers exchanged Facebook messages discussing the killing of the suspected 'snitch,'" <a href="http://www.thesmokinggun.com/documents/internet/teens-arrested-facebook-death-threats" target="_hplink">reports The Smoking Gun</a>. The Smoking Gun also published some of the purported threats, detailed <a href="http://www.thesmokinggun.com/file/facebook-death-threat?page=0" target="_hplink">in the police report</a>: - "He ruined my bestfriend's life! And ima end his!!" - "Oh that little bitch is dead. Just u have to show me who he is first then he is dead." - "IMA HELP KILL HIM!! THAT PUNK RUINED OUR LIVES!! HES SOO DEAD!!"
In May 2011 <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/05/05/woman-allegedly-bragged-o_n_858226.html" target="_hplink">Chicago resident Ruth Ramirez</a>, 26, turned herself in to police over an alleged bar brawl in April, during which Ramirez was said to have broken a glass in another woman's face. According to a statement by police, <a href="http://www.chicagobreakingnews.com/news/local/chibrknews-prosecutors-bragging-on-facebook-leads-to-charges-20110504,0,2182393.story" target="_hplink">reported by Chicago Breaking News</a>, a friend of the victim was on Facebook the day after the fight and noticed a post describing the incident in detail. "She showed the post to the victim, who identified her attacker by the photograph posted on the profile. [...] The victim called police and gave them the information, and an investigative alert was issued," <a href="http://www.chicagobreakingnews.com/news/local/chibrknews-prosecutors-bragging-on-facebook-leads-to-charges-20110504,0,2182393.story" target="_hplink">wrote CBN</a>.
Relationship Status Change
In February 2011, Eric James Wilson, 21, was arrested in Palm Bay, Florida for <a href="http://www.clickorlando.com/news/26860530/detail.html" target="_hplink">allegedly assaulting his then-wife</a>. <a href="http://www.zdnet.com/blog/facebook/man-arrested-over-facebook-relationship-status/220" target="_hplink">According to ZDNET</a>, police charged Wilson with "battery domestic violence and a misdemeanor." The fight reportedly started after Wilson changed his Facebook relationship status from "married" to "single."