FBI pursues greater real-time Gmail spying powers

The agency wants to expand real-time surveillance of online communications

Published March 27, 2013 3:32PM (EDT)


The FBI is seeking to expand its spying powers when it comes to real-time communications. According to Ryan Gallagher at Slate the agency has made it a "top priority" this year to gain the the ability to wiretap all forms of Internet conversation and cloud storage. The 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act only allows the government to force Internet providers and telecom companies to install surveillance equipment within their networks. But, as Gallagher notes, "it doesn’t cover email, cloud services, or online chat providers like Skype." The FBI has thus a difficult time expanding its vast surveillance dragnet to monitoring Gmail, Google Voice and Dropbox in real time. Gallagher writes that the agency hopes to change this in 2013:

Last week, during a talk for the American Bar Association in Washington, D.C., FBI general counsel Andrew Weissmann discussed some of the pressing surveillance and national security issues facing the bureau. He gave a few updates on the FBI’s efforts to address what it calls the “going dark” problem—how the rise in popularity of email and social networks has stifled its ability to monitor communications as they are being transmitted. It’s no secret that under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, the feds can easily obtain archive copies of emails. When it comes to spying on emails or Gchat in real time, however, it’s a different story.

... Weissmann said that the FBI wants the power to mandate real-time surveillance of everything from Dropbox and online games (“the chat feature in Scrabble”) to Gmail and Google Voice.

By Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email nlennard@salon.com.

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Dropbox Fbi Google Spying Surveillance Wiretapping