FBI officials have been pushing telecommunications providers to include technology inside their internal networks to further federal surveillance efforts, even threatening them with contempt of court, according to a CNET report.
The FBI says the software, which intercepts metadata in real time, is authorized under the Patriot Act. The software is capable of analyzing entire communications streams, sources said, and carriers are being cautious about installing the equipment because of the risks of compromising privacy and security on internal networks.
It's "an interception device by definition," an industry insider, speaking on condition of anonymity because court proceedings are sealed, CNET reported.
The FBI told
CNET that it can use Internet metadata, including IP addresses, saying "in circumstances where a provider is unable to comply with a court order utilizing its own technical solutions, law enforcement may offer to provide technical assistance to meet the obligation of the court order."
Major providers, including AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, Comcast, and Sprint did not comment, and a source familiar with the software said it is not used industry wide.
Ordinarily, law enforcement must get a judge's warrant to search private Internet content. However, the law differs for metadata, including IP and e-mail addresses, Facebook identities, Web sites visited and even Internet searches because of a section of the Patriot act that authorizes the FBI to implant its surveillance technology on networks.
Not all metadata is legally accessible through the software, though, as federal law says only dialing, routing, addressing, or signaling information is accessible without obtaining a wiretap. However, the FBI's port reader can intercept all metadata, an industry source said, exceeding what the law allows.
Hanni Fakhoury, a staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said he is concerned that port reader software 'boxes are secretly storing something, or that they're doing more than just simply allowing traffic to sift through and pulling out the routing information."
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