With the world of Internet messaging and communication leaving telephone conversations in the dust, federal law enforcement and national security officials are finding it harder to wiretap criminal and terrorist suspects. The simple days of intercepting phone conversations are coming to an end; many online communication services such as Facebook and Skype, as well as sophisticated phone and e-mail messages, carry encrypted messages that are very hard to crack.
Naturally, the Obama Administration wants police and spy agencies to have the ability to tap into these encrypted conversations, just as the 1994 Communications Assistance to Law Enforcement Act allowed the government to intercept phone and broadband communications without a specified cause. But the act is much easier said than done. One of the main reasons why many online communication services and phone systems are encrypted is to preserve the privacy and authenticity of the user, protecting them from hackers. Allowing the government to crack the code may be justified to preserve security, but will not be welcome to the average internet user. If hackers realize that the government has a way to decrypt and intercept messages, it is only a matter of time until hackers figure it out.
This is not an easy situation to solve, and it places a heavy weight on the shoulders of the government. Every passing, indecisive day leaves the nation vulnerable to the terrorists and criminals who freely and safely communicate using online services. However, Americans are certainly not ready for the government to be able to watch them as they send e-mails, instant messages, or other means of online communication, and neither are the companies involved. Exposing a way of decrypting messages could be very costly for companies, making it easier for competing businesses to steal communications.
Essentially, the circumstances boil down to the fact that we will be quite discontent if the mandate to decrypt online messages is passed next year. Yes, wiretapping is not the solution, but simply stating so will not accomplish anything. In a situation of such importance to national security, we must consider the needs of the government and the concerns of the people.
The Obama Administration must find a very watertight, intelligent solution to this dilemma. The government must sit down and decide where the boundary should be drawn between safety and privacy, and look to new, plausible ways of discovering criminal and terrorist threats. They cannot work alone though; it is imperative that we provide input in order for us to be satisfied with our protection, and the government to be satisfied with the nation’s protection. ▪