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Eavesdropping on e-mail, phone calls

Welcome to the world of wiretapping, where confusion reigns. Yesterday, a federal appeals court decided to reinstate a criminal case against an e-mail service provider accused of reading correspondence meant for his customers in violation of federal wiretap laws.


But just a week ago, a "weirdly schizophrenic" Federal Communications Commission imposed serious wiretapping requirements on broadband service companies, as's Declan McCullagh pointed out. The messages coming from governmental and judicial authorities, it seems, are decidedly mixed on the topic of electronic surveillance.

The majority of the blogosphere is fervently supportive of free speech, and that was reflected in most of the reactions to both developments. Yet even here, in this age of heightened awareness over security issues, others voiced support for stronger law-enforcement authority to eavesdrop.

Blog community response:

"The final meaning of Councilman is simple: Technological artifacts will not suffice to remove e-mail from the privacy protections found in the Wiretap Act and demote them to the vastly lesser protections of the Stored Communications Act. The purpose of the communication channel--not its technological implementation, which is invisible to the ordinary user--controls; so a user 'expecting' e-mail privacy standards gets them."
Scrivener's Error

"The judges in the case admitted they weren't comfortable with the decision, but the problem was in the way the law was worded. The law only applies to 'intercepted' communications--and since the messages were (temporarily) on a server, reading through them technically was not 'intercepting' communications, since they already had them. ...While the end result may seem like a good thing, protecting the rights of individuals to keep their email private from their email providers, the decision is still questionable."

"In layman's terms the Federal Communications Commission told your ISP that it must purposely make backdoors in the internet systems. These back doors are often used by people to gain information about you or maybe leach off your Internet. But the FCC is using them to put wiretaps on VoIP and to monitor what your are looking at every day you get online from emails to bank accounts. This of course is all unconstitutional, but since congress passed the United States Patriot Act this is all perfectly legal, they need no warrant."

"The impact of 9/11 is still going strong. The day people finally realize what we've been doing to ourselves since that tragic event will be too late. 1984..."
--Rantings of a Non-Conformist

"Every new technology such as pagers and disposable phones seems to be picked up quickly by criminals. I think we need to be focusing not only on wiretapping VoIP service providers but coming up with ways of listening in on p2p VoIP calls."
--Rich Tehrani's VoIP blog