Friday, April 30, 2010

Encryption Can't Stop The Wiretapping Boom

Andy Greenberg writes on

As encryption technologies have outpaced the mathematical methods of breaking crypto schemes, law enforcement has feared for years that scrambled messages between evildoers (or law-breaking activists) would thwart their snooping. But it seems that either lawbreakers aren't using encryption, or those privacy tools simply don't work.

In an annual report [.pdf] published Friday by the U.S. judicial system on the number of wiretaps it granted over the past year, the courts revealed that there were 2,376 wiretaps by law enforcement agencies in 2009, up 26% from 1,891 the year before, and up 76% from 1999. (Those numbers, it should be noted, don't include international wiretaps or those aimed at intelligence purposes rather than law enforcement.)

But in the midst of that wiretapping bonanza, a more surprising figure is the number of cases in which law enforcement encountered encryption as a barrier: one.

According to the courts, only one wiretapping case in the entire country encountered encryption last year, and in that single case, whatever privacy tools were used don't seemed to have posed much of a hurdle to eavedroppers. "In 2009, encryption was encountered during one state wiretap, but did not prevent officials from obtaining the plain text of the communications," reads the report.

More here.


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