Wiretappaing - what US residents may like to know!

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Ok this may have gone in the Tech. section, but i think chat would be a better place

On August 5, 2007, President Bush signed the Protect America Act of 2007 into law. The law, an amendment to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA), extends the government's authority to wiretap without a warrant. In light of the new law, Science Friday consulted wiretap experts Matt Blaze, a technologist and professor of computer and information science at University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia and Susan Landau, Distinguished engineer at Sun Microsystems Laboratories about the science of wiretapping.

How much is known about Federal wiretapping technology?
Not much, both Blaze and Landau agreed. “Hardly anyone knows much of anything about that technology because it is mostly secret,” says Blaze.  For obvious reasons, the National Security Agency has not made the information about how it wiretaps public. More is known about how local law enforcement taps phones, says Blaze.

What are the different kinds of phone wiretaps?
Broadly speaking, there are two types of telephone wiretaps. The first is when a law enforcement official listens directly to a target's phone calls. The other type of tap looks at the general traffic patterns of communication--when are calls made, to whom, for how long.

How is the direct tapping done, when an agent is listening to your calls?
For every land line, a pair of copper wires runs from your house to your phone company’s “central office” in your neighborhood. This central office is where your phone call is routed to whom you are calling. Before the early 1990s, local police enforcement wiretaps were done on the local loop—“physically between the central office and you,” says Landau. Law enforcement agencies would intercept the copper wires that ran from your house to the central office and would attach another pair of wires that went to police headquarters.

Matt Blaze explains old-style wiretapping: (mp3)

But, in the last 15 years or so, the system has changed. Now the phone companies are required to have a standard interface for tapping their customers. Usually the phone company runs a T1 line from the central office to police headquarters, Blaze says. This T1 line can carry multiple phone lines to police headquarters for surveillance at once. In this type of tap, the telephone company must be involved: the police must tell the phone company which numbers they want tapped.

Matt Blaze explains the new wiretapping: (mp3)

How does this new law, the Protect America Act of 2007, change the way federal wiretaps are done?
The Protect America Act of 2007 amends the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). FISA taps are done by the federal government only and (before the new amendment) FISA taps required a warrant unless the calls were foreign to foreign conversations. These foreign to foreign conversations used to be transmitted via radio waves. In the last twenty years, however, fiber optic cables started carrying international calls. Before the new law, the National Security Agency (NSA) wasn't allowed to tap cables in the US without a warrant--even if the calls were foreign to foreign. The NSA argued that it should be able to listen to these foreign to foreign calls without a warrant. The new law is controversial because it goes beyond the called-for fix and now allows the NSA to tap domestic to foreign calls (not just foreign to foreign calls) without a warrant or court supervision.

Landau describes the new law:  (mp3)

If the new law lets the NSA monitor foreign to domestic calls, where might the monitoring take place?
Most international calls travel through transatlantic fiber optic cables. When the calls leave or enter the country, they go through border checkpoints that route the calls within the country. Laundau says that the NSA likely has a filter that collects data on traffic patterns at these checkpoints. (Although the details of federal wiretapping are secret so it is not known for sure.) “They get data and decide what new patterns they want to look for. But that kind of searching has not been legally permissible until two days ago,” says Landau.

Landau explains where NSA tapping might take place: (mp3)

Is there a federal agent in a room listening to all the international calls?
Unlikely. It is expensive to pay personnel to listen all the time. In criminal investigations, the average cost of direct interception of a line--a wiretap in which an officer listens in--was $52,551 in 2006, according to the Report of the Director of the Administrative Office of the United States Courts. The federal taps in criminal investigations cost about ten thousand more than that. (There is no public data on the cost of foreign intelligence taps covered by FISA.) Filters are cheaper. "The filters are trying to pull out traffic of potential interest, which then presumably gets analyzed by various data mining and computer techniques long before a human being actually sees it,” says Landau.

Landau explains what the filters look for: (mp3)

Who is likely to be in charge of these filtering boxes--do the telephone companies need to be involved?
We don't know. But Landau says that it is logical to assume that the NSA would want to monitor the filters themselves (instead of having to give the phone company information about what NSA is looking for). It's not clear whether someone would have to be physically at the checkpoint to change the filter. But if the filter can be changed remotely, one concern, Landau says, is that someone could also remotely hack in to the filters.



Offline Simulated

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Wiretappaing - what US residents may like to know!
« Reply #1 on: 19/01/2008 02:33:19 »
The government is so stupid. Ugh. Grandpa for president!!


Offline stana

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Wiretappaing - what US residents may like to know!
« Reply #2 on: 19/01/2008 10:16:41 »
The government is so stupid. Ugh. Grandpa for president!!

Woah, you got some guts man, this is the US government were talking about here, i wouldnt be surprised if they had SWAT smash through your windows and come down through your roof and arrest you for that LOL