“The U.S. government has attempted to obtain the master encryption keys that Internet companies use to shield millions of users’ private Web communications from eavesdropping,” Declan McCullagh reports for CNET. “These demands for master encryption keys, which have not been disclosed previously, represent a technological escalation in the clandestine methods that the FBI and the National Security Agency employ when conducting electronic surveillance against Internet users.”

“If the government obtains a company’s master encryption key, agents could decrypt the contents of communications intercepted through a wiretap or by invoking the potent surveillance authorities of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act,” McCullagh reports. “Web encryption — which often appears in a browser with a HTTPS lock icon when enabled — uses a technique called SSL, or Secure Sockets Layer. ‘The government is definitely demanding SSL keys from providers,’ said one person who has responded to government attempts to obtain encryption keys. The source spoke with CNET on condition of anonymity.”

McCullagh reports, “The person said that large Internet companies have resisted the requests on the grounds that they go beyond what the law permits, but voiced concern that smaller companies without well-staffed legal departments might be less willing to put up a fight. ‘I believe the government is beating up on the little guys,’ the person said. ‘The government’s view is that anything we can think of, we can compel you to do.'”

“It’s not entirely clear whether federal surveillance law gives the U.S. government the authority to demand master encryption keys from Internet companies. ‘That’s an unanswered question,’ said Jennifer Granick, director of civil liberties at Stanford University’s Center for Internet and Society. ‘We don’t know whether you can be compelled to do that or not,'” McCullagh reports. “‘One of the biggest problems with compelling the [private key] is it gives you access to not just the target’s communications, but all communications flowing through the system, which is exceedingly dangerous,’ said Stanford’s Granick.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: United States Constitution, Amendment IV:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. – Benjamin Franklin, Historical Review of Pennsylvania, 1759

Join The Electronic Frontier Foundation in calling for a full congressional investigation here.

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