CWmike writes: "To the FBI, it would be substantively the same as what the agency has had the authority to do for generations with a court warrant: wiretap phones to listen in on possibly criminal communications. To privacy and civil liberties advocates, it amounts to another expansion of the FBI's already excessive authority to spy on innocent American citizens. 'It,' explains Taylor Armerding, is a proposed amendment to the 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, that would require social-networking Web sites and providers of VoIP (such as Skype), instant messaging and e-mail to provide a so-called 'backdoor' to give the FBI the same ability to tap into communications as they can with mobile or landline phone networks. CNET's Declan McCullagh reported last week on the FBI's argument, that the massive shift of communications from the telephone system to the Internet 'has made it far more difficult for the agency to wiretap Americans suspected of illegal activities.' The law has already been expanded once, in 2004, to include broadband networks, but still excludes Web companies. The FBI says its surveillance efforts are in danger of 'going dark," if it is not allowed to monitor the way people communicate now. Not surprisingly, a range of opponents from privacy advocates to legal experts disagree — strongly. On key tech hitch with the plan, per ACLU attorney Mark Rumold and others: There is a difference between wiretapping phones and demanding a backdoor to Internet services. 'A backdoor doesn't just make it accessible to the FBI — it makes it vulnerable to others,' Rummold says."
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