Men in Black Stalking Your Facebook

The joke that “the government is watching you” is becoming less and less comedic as time goes by. You may think your privacy settings on Facebook keep you hidden and protected, but if the government has its way, that door will be open to the FBI.

Meeting of the Matrix

The Federal Bureau of Investigation reportedly met with representatives from Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, and other groups providing social networking with privacy features that prevent wiretap accessibility, according to CNET early this month. The Bureau argued for a legislative proposal that would require a code change and enable them to perform investigations and monitor activity on the web via surveillance.

Apparently the FBI has an urgent need to open up portals to access private web content as the dependency on the internet and web services has dramatically increased and they have less ability to perform investigations. They feel that their investigations would be substantially improved with accessibility to such vast amounts of intelligence and information.

Expanding Their Reach

In 1994, the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) was put in place to protect the safety of the public and national security by requiring telecommunications carriers to aid the law enforcement in electronic surveillance with proper legal authorization. The problem is that this law does not apply to the internet as it is not included in the definition of “telecommunications.” Thus, the Bureau is not allowed to access anything protected by privacy rights on the web.

On the bright side, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg worked hard to make it clear to users exactly what was being done with their secure information and how it was being accessed by Facebook. By simplifying the information, users have a better understanding of what exactly the extent of their privacy is and they have time to plan accordingly for the public release on Friday.

We The People…

The strongest argument against the government’s intrusion of Facebook and the other social networking resources is that it comes as a direct violation of the constitutional privacy rights of Americans. Furthermore, the amendment to the CALEA would allow investigation of those suspected of illegal or criminal activity, which would basically give the government free reign over users’ information.

Although the legislative changes suggested by the FBI have already been approved by the Department of Justice, the battle on the lines of Congress will be much more difficult. A similar war was fought over the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) introduced by U.S. Representative Lamar S. Smith to expand the reach of U.S. Law enforcement regarding copyrighted material being trafficked. The primary function of the bill was to force certain advertising networks and payment facilities from transacting business interactions with sites that infringe on copyrights. Furthermore, search engines would be blocked from providing access to those sites.

The intent with SOPA was to protect the intellectual property rights of individuals, yet opponents argued that it harmed innovation and threatened free speech. The explosive response from internet users when the bill was proposed (Google alone claimed seven million signatures against the bill) was a resoundingly clear reminder that America can and will raise a unified voice when it deems it necessary. A similar response is certain to be the case if the Bureau attempts to push a bill across the table that allows them to tap into the surveillance potential of “secure” web content.

Watchers Being Watched

It’s possible that the FBI is attempting to get ahead of the game in the defense of national security, as Director Robert Mueller stated in early February that cyber attacks and espionage will soon surpass terrorism as the number one threat to the United States. Three days after he made this statement — as if to prove his point — hackers released a recording of an intercepted call between FBI agents and their counterparts in the U.K. It would appear that the FBI either has a fear of the potential impacts of the cyber-world, or they are still sore from the public display of their lax security measures within the Bureau.

When debating whether or not the government should be responsible for protecting Americans by tapping into the cyber-world of social networking and other online entities, the argument is split between the government and the private sector. Thus far, no hard evidence has been provided in favor of the government’s ability to secure networks being more secure than the private sector. In fact, the Ponemon Institute released a report that found that of all the sectors of the economy as it relates to network content, the government was the most vulnerable. The intercepted FBI/U.K. call was a perfect case-in-point.

One thing is certain, whatever the government tries to do in relation to accessing secure network and social network utilities, there will be strong opposition from the online community. In addition, it is expected that most of these changes will take place, or at least be attempted, in the next one to two years. The pressure for cyber-security is mounting faster than ever as network usage continues to expand.