Wiretapping Woes

Trouble ahead for those wanting to monitor Internet-based calls

4 min read

The telecommunications world was a much simpler place in 1994, when the U.S. Congress passed a landmark wiretapping law. At the time, the statute was meant to take advantage of the new fact that instead of doing wiretaps the old-fashioned way--by walking into a local phone company office with a warrant and some alligator clips--law enforcement officers now could conduct a wiretap centrally on a carrier's network by duplicating a phone call digitally and directing the copy to police headquarters.

Starting on 14 May, the 1994 law, the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), will also apply to some voice over Internet Protocol providers, and the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation has asked that it eventually be extended to all Internet-based communications. The wiretapping statute was originally designed for traditional telephone companies, which use circuit switching to create a dedicated channel for each phone call. But today, using Internet telephony, almost anyone can be a telecommunications carrier, including Google, Skype, Vonage, and Yahoo, to name just four companies that didn't exist in 1994.

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How Police Exploited the Capitol Riot’s Digital Records

Forensic technology is powerful, but is it worth the privacy trade-offs?

11 min read
 Illustration of the silhouette of a person with upraised arm holding a cellphone in front of the U.S. Capitol building. Superimposed on the head is a green matrix, which represents data points used for facial recognition
Gabriel Zimmer

The group of well-dressed young men who gathered on the outskirts of Baltimore on the night of 5 January 2021 hardly looked like extremists. But the next day, prosecutors allege, they would all breach the United States Capitol during the deadly insurrection. Several would loot and destroy media equipment, and one would assault a policeman.

No strangers to protest, the men, members of the America First movement, diligently donned masks to obscure their faces. None boasted of their exploits on social media, and none of their friends or family would come forward to denounce them. But on 5 January, they made one piping hot, family-size mistake: They shared a pizza.

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