FBI forming “Communications Assistance Center” to help spy on Americans

Only weeks after requesting backdoor access to popular sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google+, the FBI is in the news again. Now the organization appears to be staffing the elite unit that will create the technologies to tap into Americans’ communications on social networks.

CNet broke the story today, revealing that the unit has now been created. According to the story, the new division will be called the Domestic Communications Assistance Center, and it has already been allocated $54 million in funding by a Senate committee. While the group won’t engage in spying itself, it will create technologies to help state and local police intercept, decrypt, and analyze communications data.

The legal issues here are not entirely clear. While the police and security forces of most nations have had the ability to wiretap telecoms for decades, that capability is less and less valuable as the bulk of  communications moves towards social networks and voice-over-IP solutions like Skype. National and local law enforcement agencies want the ability to tap into new networks as well as old, and an amendment to CALEA, the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, is being proposed that would force social networks to give access to law enforcement for surveillance purposes.

What’s far more clear is that the FBI is making these moves as silently and secretly as possible. There is no national debate, very little governmental debate, and almost no public awareness of the capabilities being requested and created. The changes represent what could be very significant privacy intrusions, coming just days after we saw how internal government employees can misuse data that their privileged positions give them access to.

However, developers and hackers looking for jobs can potentially join the new agency, headquartered in Quantico, Va. According to the job posting, you’ll need to have “experience in conducting and/or managing electronic surveillance operations” and “skill in evaluating technical electronic surveillance solutions.” If you do, you could qualify for a salary as high as $136,771.

In my post a few weeks ago, I referenced George Orwell. That was before the name of the new unit was revealed. Calling a spy center a “domestic communications assistance” unit does actually line up quite well with Orwell’s famous phrases: “war is peace,” “freedom is slavery,” and “ignorance is strength.”

Image credit: Thomas Tolkien/Flickr

blog comments powered by Disqus