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Thursday, July 25, 2013

Federal government going after master encryption keys from Internet companies for easier spying

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Madison Ruppert

According to a new report, the U.S. government is demanding the master encryption keys that are used by Internet companies to protect the private communications of countless users from government surveillance.

A recent government report revealed that encryption actually thwarted attempted wiretaps for the first time on record, which makes it all the more understandable that the government would now be attempting to break through any and all methods of encryption.

The demands for these master encryption keys have not been disclosed previously, according to Declan McCullagh, the journalist who broke the story for CNET.

It represents a new level in the secret methods used by the FBI and National Security Agency (NSA) in their quest to spy on millions of Internet users. The NSA is now facing a major lawsuit over their surveillance programs.

If the NSA had master encryption keys, they would never have to worry about directly placing surveillance equipment in the server rooms of ISPs and would have a much easier time of spying on people around the world.

If the government gets their hands on an Internet firm’s master encryption key, government agents would then be able to decrypt communications intercepted via wiretap or through the many surveillance authorities given by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

Web encryption uses technology called Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) and according to one anonymous source who spoke to CNET, web firms are already responding to the government’s attempt to obtain the encryption keys.

“The government is definitely demanding SSL keys from providers,” the anonymous source, who has dealt with the government’s attempts to obtain the keys, said.

Large Internet companies have successfully resisted the government requests, stating that they exceed what is required by law, according to the source.

However, the individual said that smaller companies without a well-funded and staffed legal team may not be as willing to fight the government on the issue.

“I believe the government is beating up on the little guys,” the source said. “The government’s view is that anything we can think of, we can compel you to do.”

Yet the source’s claims about the large Internet companies should be treated with a healthy degree of skepticism, in my opinion.

After all, we know that companies have worked with the NSA in the past and even launched projects to help their surveillance efforts.

Furthermore, we have seen their cleverly worded statements avoided actually denying the reality of their role in the PRISM program.

Silicon Valley and the NSA are far from enemies, evidenced by the tight-knit relationship Google has with the government, especially with the NSA.

A spokesperson for Microsoft would not say if the company has received government requests for their master encryption keys.

However, when asked if they would hand over the master key used for either web or e-mail encryption, the spokesperson said, “No, we don’t, and we can’t see a circumstance in which we would provide it.”

Google similarly refused to say if they had received requests for their encryption keys.

Yet they also stated that the Internet giant has “never handed over keys” to the government and that all requests are carefully reviewed.

“We’re sticklers for details — frequently pushing back when the requests appear to be fishing expeditions or don’t follow the correct process,” the Google spokesperson said.
A spokeswoman for Facebook, on the other hand, refused to answer any questions. Yet one anonymous individual claimed that the company would “vigorously” fight such a request.

A long list of companies refused to respond to questions from CNET asking if they would hand over encryption keys to government agencies.

Such companies include: Apple, Yahoo, AOL, Verizon, AT&T, Opera Software’s, Time Warner Cable, and Comcast.

“The requests are coming because the Internet is very rapidly changing to an encrypted model,” an unnamed former Justice Department official told CNET. “SSL has really impacted the capability of U.S. law enforcement. They’re now going to the ultimate application layer provider.”

A spokesman for the FBI would not comment on the matter, saying that they do not “discuss specific strategies, techniques and tools that we may use.”

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This article first appeared at End the Lie.

Madison Ruppert is the Editor and Owner-Operator of the alternative news and analysis database End The Lie and has no affiliation with any NGO, political party, economic school, or other organization/cause. He is available for podcast and radio interviews. Madison also now has his own radio show on UCYTV Monday nights 7 PM - 9 PM PT/10 PM - 12 AM ET. Show page link here:http://UCY.TV/EndtheLie. If you have questions, comments, or corrections feel free to contact him at

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