“Going Dark”–FBI Increasingly Can’t Intercept Online Messages


Federal law enforcement and intelligence authorities are increasingly struggling to conduct court-ordered wiretaps on suspects because of a surge in chat services, instant messaging and other online communications that lack the technical means to be intercepted, reports the Washington Post. A large percentage of wiretap orders to pick up the communications of suspected spies and foreign agents are not being fulfilled, FBI officials said. Agents often decline even to seek orders when they know firms lack the means to tap into a suspect's communications in real time. “It's a significant problem, and it's continuing to get worse,” said Amy Hess, executive assistant director of the FBI's Science and Technology Branch.

One former U.S. official said that each year hundreds of individualized wiretap orders for foreign intelligence are not being fully executed because of a growing gap between the government's legal authority and its practical ability to capture communications. FBI officials call the problem “going dark.” Today, at least 4,000 U.S. companies provide some form of communication service, and a “significant portion” are not required by law to make sure their platforms are wiretap-ready, Hess said. Among the types of services that were unthinkable not long ago are photo-sharing services, which say they allow users to send photos that are automatically deleted, and peer-to-peer Internet phone calls, for which there are no practical means for interception.

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