4G Mobile Networks Cause Wiretap Concern at FBI

J. Edgar Hoover, director of the F.B.I, photog...

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We’ve long known that the FBI and other law-enforcement agencies are able to obtain wire taps to monitor suspected criminal behavior on telephones and internet connections.  In recent years they’ve even been able to do some monitoring without court order via the Patriot Act.

In a recently de-classified document, the FBI acknowledges that the wireless revolution is creating serious problems for monitoring individuals.  The use of the newest high-speed “4G” networks, such as Verizon‘s LTE, provide 20Mbps connections which were unheard of just one year ago.  Processing and analyzing these fire-hoses of information is presenting numerous technical challenges for everyone involved.

All voice calls on 4G networks are placed using VoIP technologies.  One of the major problems the FBI has noted with this technology, arises from the tunnels that are used within networks during the “handoff” of IP traffic as it’s transmitted. “Tunnels within a network increase the complexity of lawful intercept (LI) solutions,” reads the newsletter. The challenges presented by tunnels include “difficulty in identifying the traffic of a particular user (e.g., deep packet inspection may be needed), accessing the content of a tunnel at its end-points, and the use of encryption within tunnels.”

On top of the strictly fire-hose amounts of data problems noted is the ability to use high-level encryption on-the-fly with these newer, faster phones.  Free software, such as that from Phil Zimmerman of PGP fame, allows people to communicate without fear of commercial or government monitoring.  As the use of encryption for communications increases, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies problems are going to increase exponentially.

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