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Cisco Systems has created a more efficient and targeted way for police and intelligence agencies to eavesdrop on people whose Internet service provider uses their company's routers.


The company recently published a proposal that describes how it plans to embed "lawful interception" capability into its products. Among the highlights: Eavesdropping "must be undetectable," and multiple police agencies conducting simultaneous wiretaps must not learn of one another. If an Internet provider uses encryption to preserve its customers' privacy and has access to the encryption keys, it must turn over the intercepted communications to police in a descrambled form.

Cisco's decision to begin offering "lawful interception" capability as an option to its customers could turn out to be either good or bad news for privacy.

Because Cisco's routers currently aren't designed to target an individual, it's easy for an Internet service provider (ISP) to comply with a police request today by turning over all the traffic that flows through a router or switch. Cisco's "lawful interception" capability thus might help limit the amount of data that gets scooped up in the process.



On the other hand, the argument that it hinders privacy goes like this: By making wiretapping more efficient, Cisco will permit governments in other countries--where court oversight of police eavesdropping is even more limited than in the United States--snoop on far more communications than they could have otherwise.

Marc Rotenberg, head of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, says: "I don't see why the technical community should hardwire surveillance standards and not also hardwire accountability standards like audit logs and public reporting. The laws that permit 'lawful interception' typically incorporate both components--the (interception) authority and the means of oversight--but the (Cisco) implementation seems to have only the surveillance component. That is no guarantee that the authority will be used in a 'lawful' manner."

U.S. history provides many examples of government and police agencies conducting illegal wiretaps. The FBI unlawfully spied on Eleanor Roosevelt, Martin Luther King Jr., feminists, gay rights leaders and Catholic priests. During its dark days, the bureau used secret files and hidden microphones to blackmail the Kennedy brothers, sway the Supreme Court and influence presidential elections. Cisco's Internet draft may be titled "lawful interception," but there's no guarantee that the capability will always be used legally.
 

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Good thing the "dark days" are behind us ...

... I've got some land in the Everglades for sale. Also a certain Bridge ...
 
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