For First Time, U.S. Government Admits Some Wiretaps were Foiled by Encryption
In good news for citizen privacy and bad news for government snooping, a government report last week admitted for the first time that encryption is thwarting government surveillance efforts through court-approved wiretaps.
According to last week’s Wiretap Report from the U.S. Administrative Office of the Courts:
Encryption was reported for 15 wiretaps in 2012 and for 7 wiretaps conducted during previous years. In four of these wiretaps, officials were unable to decipher the plain text of the messages. This is the first time that jurisdictions have reported that encryption prevented officials from obtaining the plain text of the communications since the AO began collecting encryption data in 2001.
Although the rate of encryption encountered more than doubled from 2011 to 2012, 15 encryptions are just a drop in the bucket compared to the 3,395 wiretaps authorized last year by federal or state judges, itself a 24% increase over the 2,732 wiretaps permitted in 2011. The figures do not include wiretaps secretly authorized by the rubberstamp Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that are at the center of the PRISM scandal.
Despite law enforcement claims that, as FBI Director Louis Freeh told Congress in 1997, “the widespread use of uncrackable encryption will devastate our ability to fight crime and prevent terrorism,” in fact the Report admits that about 87% of the wiretaps were issued in drug-related cases, 3.4% in homicide and assault cases, 2.6% in racketeering cases, 2% in gambling cases. None were for cases investigating terrorism.
To Learn More:
Wiretap Report 2012 (U.S. Administrative Office of the Courts)
Encryption Has Foiled Wiretaps for First Time Ever, Feds Say (by David Kravets, Wired)
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