The FBI has spent $54 million and four years preparing a surveillance unit with the capabilities to spy on Skype conversations and other internet communications. But they won’t actually say what it is for.
A collaboration between the U.S. Marshals Service, the Drug Enforcement Agency and the FBI has seen the creation of the Domestic Communications Assistance Center. Whenever a court order requests it, the three agencies can build bespoke hardware to enable wiretapping on wireless and other internet conversations.
CNET reported: “It’s also designed to serve as a kind of surveillance help desk for state, local, and other federal police… The center represents the technological component of the bureau’s ‘Going Dark’ Internet wiretapping push, which was allocated $54 million by a Senate committee last month.”
The FBI haven’t exactly been forthcoming about what they specifically plan to use the organisation for, although they did say that it will “not be responsible for the actual execution of any electronic surveillance court orders and will not have any direct operational or investigative role in investigations.”
So on the surface it looks like they are there to provide an independent service if the courts deem that it is necessary for the DCAC to become involved in an investigation.
Web surveillance is something of a hot topic for the FBI, with the bureau announcing in January that it was seeking to develop an automatic mass-monitoring computer application to analyze Facebook for crime-related comments.
Of course there are always two sides to every argument, and this is the sort of issue that can be very divisive. On the one hand people may argue that if such measures result in the saving of lives then the DCAC is a good thing, while there will be people who argue just as strongly that this is yet another affront to privacy.
Where do you stand on this debate? Feel free to make your voice heard by leaving a comment.