Gmail (Photo : Flickr / Mario Antonio Pena Zapater)
Just in case you weren't already, you might want to re-think joking about your future plans for a terrorist attack over Gchat or Xbox LIVE. That is, unless you'd like to get "intimately acquainted" with the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the agency has made real time spying on email platforms like GMail, and cloud computing services a "top priority."
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FBI general counsel Andrew Weissmann announced the FBI's growing need to conduct surveillance in interests of national security on platforms such as Gmail at a recent event for the American Bar Association, according to Slate. While the FBI can already spy on just about anything it likes online thanks to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, spying on services like Google Voice and Dropbox in real time is far trickier.
So, why's it so difficult for the FBI to monitor your Skype conversations? Because a 1994 surveillance law, the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, merely allows the agency to wiretap networks within Internet providers and phone companies, rather than having the ability to see email, cloud computing, or online chat services in real time. "Those communications are being used for criminal conversations," Weissman noted. Precisely why the FBI is pushing for the ability to spy on services as seemingly innocuous as "the chat feature in Scrabble."
Rob D'Ovidio, associate professor of criminal justice at Drexel University, put things in perspective for CBS.
"The FBI is looking to address the 'going dark' problem," he said.
"Going dark" refers to new technologies that aren't already covered by "landline-era" laws.
"We know that criminal organizations are using them," D'Ovidio said. "Whether they're street gangs, child pornographers, or terrorist members - they're using simple video game embedded communication tools. So the FBI is just saying we need a level playing field."
"Our laws need to be flexible to keep pace with technology, because the criminals take advantage of these new services."