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FBI Quietly Forms Secretive Net-Surveillance Unit 130

Posted by timothy
from the indefatigable-declan dept.
An anonymous reader writes with this snippet from CNET: "CNET has learned that the FBI has formed a Domestic Communications Assistance Center, which is tasked with developing new electronic surveillance technologies, including intercepting Internet, wireless, and VoIP communications. 'The big question for me is why there isn't more transparency about what's going on?' asks Jennifer Lynch, a staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil liberties group in San Francisco. 'We should know more about the program and what the FBI is doing. Which carriers they're working with — which carriers they're having problems with. They're doing the best they can to avoid being transparent.'"
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FBI Quietly Forms Secretive Net-Surveillance Unit

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  • Ummm (Score:5, Insightful)

    by globalist (1332141) on Thursday May 24, 2012 @06:44PM (#40104741)
    Just a guess, but maybe they want the unit to remain secretive?
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Just a guess, but maybe they want the unit to remain secretive?

      Or that it doesn't really exist. And this is just another bit of PR to keep the paranoia levels above minimum.

      P.S. Captcha for this post: afraid

      • I'm sure there are a bunch of guys in the NSA going to a bar toasting the news of this 'secret' department being outed with the toast "Gotcha"...

    • Apparently ,if the newsclowns know about it they just want to put the word out. "Beware, we are gonna find out what you're doing and bust you"
      Pretty stereotypical of them. Kind of like a narc with long hair, a moustache' and white dress shoes expect them to speak real l33t in the forumz and show off their "hep" attitude toward mp3z, warez, and kiddie pr0n.
      How obvious could they be?

    • Re:Ummm (Score:5, Insightful)

      by girlintraining (1395911) on Thursday May 24, 2012 @08:39PM (#40105405)

      Just a guess, but maybe they want the unit to remain secretive?

      Which is fine when you're conducting foreign intelligence operations. However, the FBI's charter is to investigate private citizens within the United States. Given their track record, I don't think anything they do should be opaque:

      They consider anyone who protests the government a terrorist, recently helped bust protesters for terrorism in Chicago -- which in actuality they were busting them for making beer. In their own home. They break federal laws so often that they had to change the laws so the FBI could continue to get convictions -- they still conceal evidence from defense attorneys to this day, and increasingly call such evidence off limits "due to national security". The FBI was instrumental in the passage and current use of the Patriot Act, which prevents citizens from even knowing the evidence presented against them, as the Constitution prescribed. I could go on, but really, I think you get the point: The FBI is one of the most corrupt law enforcement agencies in the world. The United States has the highest incarceration rate of any country worldwide. The Innocence Project routinely finds people who have been sitting 20 or 30 year prison terms for crimes they can prove beyond reasonable doubt they did not commit. The FBI's response has been to open case files and monitor everyone who comes in contact with the project. Anyone who shows the FBI as a corrupt organization quickly finds themselves facing trumped up charges of tax evasion, drugs, or even copyright infringement: Whatever it takes to silence their critics.

      I mean, I could go on... it's not hard to find examples of FBI agents engaging in activities that in any other civilized country would be grounds for imprisonment... and that was pre-9/11. Since then, they've enjoyed practically blanket-immunity for civil rights violations, and it shows. Any citizen of this country that thinks the FBI is anything but a bunch of thugs with a huge budget and no ethical constraints is deluding themselves.

      • The United States has the highest incarceration rate of any country worldwide.

        From what I understand, you are trying to say that the FBI takes up matter in their hands and they take in anyone who tries to defy the rules. Well, in some places the common people will be very happy if their police atleast tried to do this. You see, in some countries the administration is so lackadaisical, they don't even care to enforce any rules as long as they get their share of the bribes. The entire country goes haywire. I know it is stretching the topic to a different direction because spying on pe

      • by Chrisq (894406)

        Just a guess, but maybe they want the unit to remain secretive?

        Which is fine when you're conducting foreign intelligence operations. However, the FBI's charter is to investigate private citizens within the United States..

        I hate to break it to you but many "private citizens within the United States" are Muslims, and have a self-avowed aim to destroy the democratic state. Iyman_Faris [wikipedia.org], who plotted to destroy the brooklyn bridge, Faisal_Shahzad [wikipedia.org] who plotted to bomb time square, Jose Padilla [wikipedia.org] who plotted with Al Quaida to set off a dirty bomb, Nidal Malik Hasan [wikipedia.org] the Fort Hood shooter .... I could go on but you probably get the idea.

        • Your examples are comically ironic considering you are trying to justify FBI actions, given that the weight of evidence is in: "Time and again, the FBI concocts a Terrorist attack, infiltrates Muslim communities in order to find recruits, persuades them to perpetrate the attack, supplies them with the money, weapons and know-how they need to carry it out — only to heroically jump in at the last moment, arrest the would-be perpetrators whom the FBI converted, and save a grateful nation from the plot ma

          • by Chrisq (894406)

            Your examples are comically ironic considering you are trying to justify FBI actions, given that the weight of evidence is in: "Time and again, the FBI concocts a Terrorist attack, infiltrates Muslim communities in order to find recruits, persuades them to perpetrate the attack, supplies them with the money, weapons and know-how they need to carry it out — only to heroically jump in at the last moment, arrest the would-be perpetrators whom the FBI converted, and save a grateful nation from the plot manufactured by the FBI."

            http://www.salon.com/2011/09/29/fbi_terror/singleton/ [salon.com]

            Oh yea, sure they planned the For Hood shooting. Maybe they were also behind Little Rock recruiting office shooting [wikipedia.org], the Seattle Jewish Federation shooting [wikipedia.org], and the Mohammed Reza Taheri-azar SUV attack [wikipedia.org] too - all of which were carried out by Muslim American Citizens. You know, you appeasers make me nearly as sick as Muslims do themselves. Next I expect the equivocation of "but Christians draw nasty cartoons", or US soldiers shot a terrorist so we should be allowed to blow up your citizens.

            • by KhabaLox (1906148)

              Both of you are being blinded by your preconceptions.

              None of the examples of terrorist plots given by Chrisq were FBI instigated plots (not sure about the Brooklyn Bridge one though). On the other hand, the FBI does have a long track record of borderline entrapment (e.g. the Christmas Bomb plot in Portland, OR in 2010(?)).

              But, and this is the crucial part, all of those plots were carried out by Americans, just like the OK City bombing, the Unabomber bombings, and the stand-offs at Ruby Ridge and Waco. The

      • by Hatta (162192)

        I mean, I could go on... it's not hard to find examples of FBI agents engaging in activities that in any civilized country would be grounds for imprisonment...

        And Obama supports every single one of those acts. Don't forget that.

        Also, FTFY.

        • by Grishnakh (216268)

          Exactly right; we need to remember that, as much as the Obama fans hate it. They're probably busy trying to downmod you as I write this; they do it to me every time I say something similar about Obama and his police-state actions.

          The problem, of course, is that we don't really have any choice now; the election has been rigged so we're getting a choice between Obama and Romney, and there isn't an iota of difference between the two.

    • by PopeRatzo (965947)

      Just a guess, but maybe they want the unit to remain secretive?

      How "secretive" can it be if we're here talking about it?

      If the FBI wanted it kept secret, I'm pretty sure they could have pulled it off. Look how long they've been able to keep the secret that Barack Obama was the 2nd gunman in the Grassy Knoll and that Ronald Reagan used to poop his pants in the Oval Office?

      [Note: one of the above is a true fact.]

    • Just a guess, but maybe they want the unit to remain secretive?

      All the better to serve the MPAA/RIAA.

    • When government acts and hides its actions from its citizens, is when that government is not Democratic.

      Land of self justified intelligence operations, like before the Intel Oversight Act of 1974, which mattered for a good 25 years and is now regularly ignored thanks to out governmental failure to do its job.

      Word to the offended: Don't buy a gun, you cant win that even in your wildest dreams. And gold is for stupid people from 2000 years ago. Inform your peers, resist with peace, and call for a new way. I

      • by Grishnakh (216268)

        The USA is nothing like Iceland. Iceland is about a 16th of the size of the city I'm living in, population-wise. It's probably also safe to assume that people there are much better educated than here in the US (and probably even more so than the morons in this shithole city I live in).

        The simple fact is that democracy (/republicanism) doesn't work very well in giant countries full of uneducated people. That's why small European nations do so much better with it.

        Buying a gun does make sense here, but not

        • Of course those drug gangs and the general instability they bring to Mexico are our fault you know. The 'war on drugs' creates a huge black market which leads to huge stacks of cash and thousands of guns getting shipped across the border as payment.
        • If you have a degree, most countries will gladly take you. I've dug into it. They have lists... no degree means maybe not...

    • No shit. SNARK ATTACK-->Why can't they tell everyone what they're doing and how it's going and where its weaknesses are! We deserve to know! We paid for it!

      Its amazing to me how many people are so paranoid about their pirated shit that they FEAR the FBI doing what it's supposed to do because it might be turned against their pirate p0rn collection and Jay Zee rips.

      I have a solution. Stop prosecuting people for ripping shit and tell the makers of digital shit to figure out another business model but do

      • There was a time when copyright was a purely civil matter, and the FBI wouldn't have been involved at all. That was before the NET act.
      • Exactly this. The FBI surely has better things to do than crack the whip on some kid copying a movie - aren't they supposed to be out catching the legitimate Top Ten Wanted guys? Somehow the so-called justice system got hijacked by media controllers and they even managed to drag INTERPOL in as well. Amazing. Just amazing.
      • by mcgrew (92797) *

        Its amazing to me how many people are so paranoid about their pirated shit that they FEAR the FBI doing what it's supposed to do because it might be turned against their pirate p0rn collection and Jay Zee rips.

        I think everyone is paranoid about the FBI because almost everyone has a friend or family member that smoked pot.

        I have a solution. Stop prosecuting people for ripping shit and tell the makers of digital shit to figure out another business model but don't look to law enforcement to prop them up. No mo

        • Oh man the war on drugs.. here's the whole problem with that- we're financing the worst people in the world by making these drugs illegal. What will the worst people in the world do with all their money? The worst things in the world. Ambition never sleeps. For now all their effort is tied up with being the biggest kingpin in Juarez Mexico.

          But what happens when the wrong person comes along and starts thinking bigger, has bigger ambitions? Or has used enough of the drug he sells (or more likely his mother

    • then they have nothing to hide.

      So what are they doing wrong?
  • by Anonymous Coward

    'The big question for me is why there isn't more transparency about what's going on?' asks Jennifer Lynch, a staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil liberties group in San Francisco.

    What are you talking about? This is the most transparent administration in history! (Source [youtube.com] )

    • Re:Transparency. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Lynchenstein (559620) on Thursday May 24, 2012 @06:58PM (#40104835)
      Perhaps translucent is more accurate. Everything they show us is distorted.
    • Re:Transparency. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by causality (777677) on Thursday May 24, 2012 @07:14PM (#40104959)
      Speaking of big questions, I have a small one.

      What do they hope to learn from this new super-secret surveillance unit ... that's so very important ... that they can't just get a warrant for?

      Why all the secrecy and all the cloak-and-dagger bullshit when you could have the full force (and legitimacy) of a court of law backing you up? What is the need for "new surveillance technologies" when you can present a court order to the ISP and capture everything to and from your suspect at the source?

      This sounds more like CIA/NSA territory.
      • Re:Transparency. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by flaming error (1041742) on Thursday May 24, 2012 @07:27PM (#40105039) Journal

        Imagine if you were a fisherman, and in your application for a fishing license you had to identify the specific fish ("Charlie Tuna" or "Mr. Limpet" or "Wanda" or "Moby Dick") you were going after.

        It wouldn't be fishing anymore. It would be more like hunting in California, or, perish the thought, detective work.

      • Re:Transparency. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by lightknight (213164) on Thursday May 24, 2012 @07:29PM (#40105059) Homepage

        Because it's easier to take, and apologize later, than it is to ask permission.

        Hence the basis for all governmental / corporate / law enforcement / union activities -> for example, if an officer of the law demands something, even if the written law / case law is unclear, people will typically give it to him / her; later on, when sued, the officer can explain to the court that 'he / she didn't know they couldn't do that,' and is let off with the legal equivalent of a love tap. The damage, however, has already been done; and the people are now subject to 'jurisdictional creep,' where it is the burden of the common man to prove his rights / privileges in court, while simultaneously disproving the rights / privileges of his offenders (many of whom occupy higher places than the offended, with greater resources and connections).

        The current rules for the small guy are "DO NOT, unless explicitly told to"; the current rules for everyone else are "DO, unless explicitly told not to." I imagine such legal disorder preceeded the fall of many of the larger governments throughout history.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Because their remit is "To protect and serve" .... their corporate sponsors.

      • by sirwired (27582) on Thursday May 24, 2012 @07:36PM (#40105087)

        This center isn't about obtaining intelligence without a warrant, it's about executing a warrant that the FBI has obtained. An old (and I mean old) wiretap involved nothing more than a wire recorder and a pair of alligator clips at Ma Bell's central office. This center appears to be tasked with devising ways to execute surveillance warrants when the suspect is using technology that doesn't currently have "hooks" to tap.

        What good is a packet trace if you can't turn the hex into useful data? How do you handle roaming VOIP? Are there currently "hooks" in the system for intercepting cellular data? You get the idea...

        Now, none of that means that this technology won't be put to nefarious ends after it's developed, but the stated intent is benign enough.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          One of the basic principles of SIGINT [wikipedia.org] is that knowing whether, when, and for how long individuals or groups of people are communicating with each other is valuable, even without knowing the contents of the communications. Therefore tracing packets is useful even if you do not know their contents. Think the Tor button will save you? Check this email out [pastebin.com] and let me know how safe you feel using Tor now that the FBI has all of the source code as well as the complete cooperation of a now-former member of Anon

        • What good is a packet trace if you can't turn the hex into useful data?

          Isn't that what they said to Neo in the Matrix?

      • Re:Transparency. (Score:5, Interesting)

        by geekoid (135745) <dadinportland AT yahoo DOT com> on Thursday May 24, 2012 @07:38PM (#40105103) Homepage Journal

        You mistake whats going on.

        This is to get technology so when they get a warrant they can gain access. A warrant to get into the new fizzjingle device does no good if you can't get the data of the new fizjingle device.

        They don't want people to know that can now access what had been the super secure fizjingle device.

      • Re:Transparency. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Ghostworks (991012) on Thursday May 24, 2012 @07:49PM (#40105171)

        What do they hope to learn from this new super-secret surveillance unit ... that's so very important ... that they can't just get a warrant for? ...
        This sounds more like CIA/NSA territory.

        This sort of surveillance does sound more like what what you would expect out of the CIA -- which is hampered by federal laws limiting them to spying on international communications and foreign nationals -- or the NSA -- which has invested in a huge new facility after admitting that there's just not enough power to come close to breaking a significant amount of encrypted traffic. The big question is why the FBI would jump into something it's never been a major player in before.

        Best guess: they're trying to update wiretapping. They've been getting increasingly alarmed and vocal about just how little wiretapping actually buys you now. If you really want to keep something secret, you can just use an https encrypted connection to any one of numerous services that keep no records and have no mechanisms for spying on their users.

        They recently floated the idea of requiring backdoors be installed into such service, the way telecom hardware is legally required to support conventional wiretapping. that idea had no real support in technical or public circles. Even if you trust your government, it's much hard to game a system that requires someone to go to a location within the your country and physically connect to equipment owned and operated by a someone else than it is to find an exploit in a protocol that can be prodded by anyone online and which would have to be implement by everyone from Facebook to Club Penguin.

        With no widespread support for spying-as-a-service, they're stuck traffic-tapping the hard way: inspect every packet for the start of an HTTPS handshake so you can break the connection, or somehow crack an encrypted stream with incomplete knowledge. They still have no idea how they would reliably accomplish either of these. However they do it, it will probably require new laws to make it feasible. It sounds like the program casts a wide net in an attempt to find something that works, and is trying to keep it quiet because they don't know what solution will rise to the top, or how knowledge gained about the process now could be used to defeat it technically or legally later.

    • by Grishnakh (216268)

      Watch out, you're going to be downmodded by Obama fans.

      It's funny how "liberals" and "progressives" who used to bitch about the Patriot Act and other such police-state stuff are now 100% in support of these things, just because Obama is doing them.

  • by Jeremiah Cornelius (137) on Thursday May 24, 2012 @06:54PM (#40104807) Homepage Journal

    Who is, I suspect, no longer anonymous to the FBI...

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      > Who is, I suspect, no longer anonymous to the FBI...

      Neither am I. For real. Here's one product they use to monitor internet traffic on targets: Narus Insight [narus.com].

      They already have all the capabilities discussed in the article, which is itself overly dramatic. Take a look at the product page for that software and see for yourself.

  • why so secretive? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    The basic problem, of course, is that if they were to do this out in the open so that people knew what was being monitored and how, they would do something to maintain their privacy and, according to the latest FBI Local Terrorist pamphlet, anyone who is overly concerned about their personal privacy is likely a terrorist. Add to that anyone who uses cash for their purchases, who questions authority and who claims their rights under the Constitution and you can lock up the majority of the public as local te

    • by c0lo (1497653)
      Duh. I fail to understand why so many are tricked into focusing on "why so secretive" and distracted from why net surveillance at all

      It's like saying: "yeah, I have no problem in being spied on as long as I know that I might been under surveillance!" (and I'm saying this as one that was born and grew up under one of East European communist regimes, with their secret police present in the shadow. What good its to know that Big Brother is watching you if you can do nothing?)

    • The basic problem, of course, is that if they were to do this out in the open so that people knew what was being monitored and how, they would do something to maintain their privacy and, according to the latest FBI Local Terrorist pamphlet, anyone who is overly concerned about their personal privacy is likely a terrorist.

      So far so good...

      Add to that anyone who uses cash for their purchases, who questions authority and who claims their rights under the Constitution and you can lock up the majority of
      • by Anonymous Coward

        Careful. Police charge people according to set laws and in accordance with rights that have to be applied. Once the DHS have declared you a terrorist, you have no rights. Not even if you are a US citizen. The first assassination of a US citizen for joining a foreign terrorist group has already happened. Why do you think it would be impossible for it to happen to a local terrorist?

  • Police Corruption (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 24, 2012 @07:08PM (#40104899)

    Since one of the FBI's mandates is stopping police corruption, I assume that they will be monitoring the personal communications of police officers rather than the personal communications of persons with unfavorable political opinions.

    That would be reasonable, wouldn't it?

  • Who cares? They're about 30 years too late to the punch compared to the NSA. Their entire office is going to be staffed by a single ticker-tape machine being sent whatever the NSA deems useful to the FBI.
    • by Fishbulb (32296)
      Wait, I take that back; the NSA will set the FBI up with an Xbox and Forza Motorsport and tell them they're driving around the 'net in virtual Corvettes, just like in Tom Clancy's Net Force.
  • by kb1cvh (88565) * on Thursday May 24, 2012 @07:11PM (#40104931) Homepage Journal

    This appears to be the Justice department budget request for the project.

    http://www.justice.gov/jmd/2012factsheets/docs/fy12-national-security.pdf [justice.gov]

    Time to spend more time improving Tor

    https://www.torproject.org/ [torproject.org]

    • by steelfood (895457)

      Improving? How about making sure there's no hidden backdoor in the code first?

    • Have tried Tor, found it promising but buggy. I think it would be cheaper and easier to have my computer auto-search random words from the dictionary when it's on idle. If 15% of people start using Tor, they'll either find a way to stop it or bug it or take it away. But no one can stop me from showing random interest, and no one can get me for surfing a specific site if my browser searches millions of sites randomly.
  • by Qubit (100461) on Thursday May 24, 2012 @07:29PM (#40105055) Homepage Journal

    They're doing the best they can to avoid being transparent.

    Being opaque/translucent would suck. Wouldn't they want to be transparent, so that users don't see them or their effects on the network?

    I can see it now -- suspect gets a text that says "WE'RE IN YOUR VoIP PHONE, MONITORING YOUR PHONE CALLS, LOVE, THE FBI." Oh yeah, gonna catch a lot of crooks that way.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Are they any VoIP providers that offer SRTP or other encrypted protocols? I have never seen a provider that offers encryption in any form (well, except for crappy Skype).

    The thing is, encryption is actually more important over VoIP than a hardline because VoIP has no laws whatsoever protecting privacy (line taps, etc).

    • by generica1 (193760)

      It's not practical for VoIP providers to offer encryption most of the time, because their connections to the real POTS/PSTN is still just regular, wiretappable PRI/T1s at some point along the line. They have to interconnect with the real phone network at some point to be useful, and all calls therefore are still tappable.

      However, you could just use Zphone [zfoneproject.com] with ZRTP (or run your own PBX using FreeSWITCH [freeswitch.org] to accomplish what you are looking for from a VoIP provider).

    • by Hatta (162192)

      Why would you rely on your VOIP provider for encryption? Any encryption is going to have to be end to end or you can expect the government to compromise the middleman.

  • If the FBI wants to watch all the data, then:

    - They should just pay for all the hosting, backups and bandwidth.
    - Include surveillance in the terms of service.
    - Then offer the services to everyone for free.

    • Or they can follow the 'small government' fad and externalise these cost to the private sector using fascist laws.
    • by geekoid (135745)

      Ironically, if they did it that way you would have more rights, and good avenues from recourse. Unlike the private sector.

  • by interval1066 (668936) on Thursday May 24, 2012 @09:33PM (#40105697) Homepage Journal
    So after they establish this bit of nonsense are they going to be empowered to put netizens on double secret probation?
  • who else cannot wait some studio to make this into a crime procedural?
  • Did this story fall through a time portal from about 20 years ago?
  • It isn't like the FBI is doing anything new here....just that they have an official department for it. Carnivore was scanning email since the 90s. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carnivore_(software) [wikipedia.org]
  • The FBI has no need to let leak information of any of their projects, and when information is leaked that story is probably a mere percentage of the truth and intentionally leaked so we don't focus on the big picture of what they are doing. The jurisdiction and rights granted to the FBI give them more power than most law-abiding citizens could not handle responsibly/logically if they tried. I have great respect for an agency such as the FBI and am very grateful for the services they provide for our country

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