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A History of Wiretapping 128

Posted by Soulskill
from the i-blame-the-telegraph dept.
ChelleChelle writes "Wiretapping technology has grown increasingly sophisticated since the police first began to utilize it as a surveillance tool in the 1890s. What once entailed simply putting clips on wires has now evolved into building wiretapping capabilities directly into communications infrastructures (at the government's behest). In a modern society, where surveillance is often touted as a way of ensuring our safety, it is important to take into consideration the risks to our privacy and security that electronic eavesdropping presents. In this article, Whitfield Diffie and Susan Landau examine these issues, attempting to answer the important question: does wiretapping actually make us more secure?"
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A History of Wiretapping

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  • More importantly (Score:5, Insightful)

    by causality (777677) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @09:23AM (#29397595)
    Does warrantless wiretapping help anyone other than the statists who have wanted this power for a long time and now have a working excuse for it?
  • by commodore64_love (1445365) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @09:26AM (#29397613) Journal

    "Anyone who would give-up ESSENTIAL liberty for *temporary* security, deserve neither." - Benjamin Franklin. Also while we may be able to trust a President Bush or President Obama with the ability to monitor our internet transactions, eventually there will arise a man like Julius Caesar or Nero or Napoleon who will use the ability of spying for his own enrichment and/or to eliminate enemies. Like Nixon did.

    IMHO people who trust government are either fools, or they don't know history,

  • by causality (777677) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @09:36AM (#29397677)

    As much as I loathe the fact that the previous administration abused wiretapping, maybe it's a necessary evil? I don't know all of the history of wiretapping, but I imagine that the FBI and other law enforcement agencies used it to capture dangerous criminals in the past and are currently doing it in the present. As long as a warrant is obtained, I don't see why it would be illegal. Of course there will be abuse, but don't throw out a tool simply because it can be abused. Many things in life can be abused. Does that warrant their expulsion from society? Alcohol is abused, but should it be done away with? Probably a stretch of an analogy, but it works. Law enforcement, however, should not be allowed to wiretap without a warrant. Fighting terrorism, whether foreign against foreign or domestic, should not be an excuse for illegal wiretaps.

    I do think we made a mistake by making it so easy to wiretap a phone/data line. No matter what kind of central monitoring technology would allow, it should be strictly illegal and completely inadmissable in any court. The police should have to physically install wiretapping equipment on the premises to be monitored or at most, on the physical line between the premises to be monitored and the telephone company. That way, if they have a specific suspect for which a warrant is obtained, they can monitor that suspect, but they cannot go fishing and cannot perform datamining. This would greatly hinder the value of warrantless wiretapping and would help to ensure that if you are a regular citizen who has given the police no reason to suspect you of a crime, then you can be more confident that you are not being monitored because it would be impractical to do so. I greatly prefer that to trusting the goodwill of people who have proven that they will abuse this power.

    I think that's how one would correctly handle something that is rightly recognized as a necessary evil.

  • by commodore64_love (1445365) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @09:37AM (#29397683) Journal

    We need to stand together. When you observe an officer wiretapping somebody's connection or entering a house, be bold, and ask what they are doing. Wait for a reply and then ask if they have a warrant. If they don't have a warrant, then ask them to leave, and if they refuse then back away from the scene. Next call 911 to report observing a crime in progress (breaking-and-entering).

    Don't be intimidated. These officers are your EMPLOYEES and you are the boss. You have every right to hold them to task for violating constitutional law. My brother ran into this recently where a cop demanded to be let into his mother-in-law's private apartment house. My brother refused even though the cop flashed his badge and claimed to be investigating a drug problem, but my brother told the cop to go get a warrant and refused to unlock the door to the house. Watch this video for some inspiration:

    NO WARRANT, No Search - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GLpSY8d3gRc [youtube.com]

  • Wiretapping makes (Score:5, Insightful)

    by WillRobinson (159226) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @09:40AM (#29397711) Journal

    Wiretapping makes the government more secure, not individuals.

  • by grumling (94709) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @10:39AM (#29398075) Homepage

    From TFA: "Wiretapping was the perfect tool for investigating crimes such as these that lack victims who complain and give evidence to the police"

    Yet another reason to rethink our war on drugs policy.

    (and no, I don't want pot to be legal so I can use it, I just want them to stop wasting so much money on a faulty premise, as seen in prohibition)

  • by stalkedlongtime (1630997) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @10:56AM (#29398225) Journal
    A lot of the time, peer to peer encryption is like using an armored car to transfer stuff between two homeless bums.

    How secure is your call if the other guy is on speakerphone?

    How secure is your call if a satellite is using advanced signal processing techniques to pick up the sounds you hear from your headphones? You might say, "Well, nobody would bother to do that," but what do you really know about the capabilities of satellite surveillance platforms? Just how easy is it, in the year 2009, to zero in on whatever phone headset you happen to be using? You might be surprised when the answers are eventually revealed... though you might have to wait a while, until everyone involved in these covert spying operations is retired or dead.
  • by MRe_nl (306212) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @11:34AM (#29398503)

    "Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves."
    William Pitt, 1783

  • by Shakrai (717556) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @11:39AM (#29398537) Journal

    Yet another reason to rethink our war on drugs policy.

    The other problem with the war on drugs is that it creates actual victims who still aren't willing to give evidence to the police. In my hometown we've had no less than six shootings in the last two months wherein the victims refused to cooperate with the police. That tells you it's almost certainly drug related as I can't really think of any other reason why I wouldn't help the police if someone shot me.

    Six months ago a buddy of mine was outside walking his dog when he saw someone take a baseball bat and kick down a door. He then heard fighting and smashing coming from within the residence. He called 911 on his cell phone, the cops showed up and arrested the man -- and eventually had to let him go because the "victims" refused to cooperate. Now the scumbag has made some not-so-subtle threats against my friend for calling the police on him, which amazes me because you'd think they'd be smart enough to know that a non-druggie citizen with nothing to hide isn't going to take their crap lying down.

    The bulk of the crime in my city is driven by the drug trade in one way or another. It's been out of control for a long time. You can't tell me that the effects of legalized drugs would be worse than this. At least under a legalized system the addicts would be destroying their lives without putting the rest of us in the crossfire of criminal activity.

  • by Shakrai (717556) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @11:44AM (#29398583) Journal

    The corporations have won. The politicians are all in their pockets, and neighborhood watches and police informants are tricked into Gang Stalking any potential opposition at the street level, with the help of this 'program' Russ Tice refers to. It's an invisible holocaust which you won't believe in until you get sucked into it.

    Jesus dude, put the tinfoil hat away. At no point during my training for neighborhood watch were we instructed to take the political leanings of anybody into account.

    I have personal experience with what's really going on, but I can't talk about it, especially on this site full of technically sophisticated users

    I call bullshit. If you really wanted to talk about it and weren't just engaged in tinfoil hat ranting you could easily post anything you wanted as AC via an anonymous (tor/cybercafe/etc) means.

  • by radtea (464814) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @01:54PM (#29399677)

    As much as I loathe the fact that the previous administration abused wiretapping, maybe it's a necessary evil?

    Not necessary for fighting the War on Drugs, because the War on Drugs is not necessary: anyone interested in actually reducing the harm drugs do both socially and to individuals knows that legalization and harm-reduction programs are the way to go. Look what's happening today in Portugal if you disagree. Empiricism: not just for scientists any more!

    Wiretapping--with warrants--IS useful for fighting terrorism, but remember that the number of people killed by terrorists in the US in the past five years is zero, whereas the number killed by cops is considerably higher than zero. Even in Canada we've had several people who to all appearances were simply murdered by police while in custody (the police investigated themselves and found themselves innocent, remarkably enough).

    Police forces and police constables are not evil, and they are necessary. But giving police more than the minimum necessary power to do their job IS evil, and extremely dangerous.

  • by vaporland (713337) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @11:13PM (#29402651) Homepage
    Imagine for a moment that you are a senator or congressman in opposition to the party in power. Imagine also that you have a girlfriend / boyfriend "on the side".

    Now, imagine you are at home asleep at 3am and the phone rings and you pick it up and a recording plays of a conversation you had with your significant secret other.

    The message would be clear, wouldn't it? Back off or be outed.

    If you don't believe that such things are possible, you are naive. If it's possible, it's happening.

It is much easier to suggest solutions when you know nothing about the problem.

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