How Wiretapping Works, The FBI Way

Image: the FBI’s warrant wiretap UI, which they no longer need, via.
It’s not breaking news, but it’s always good to know how you’re being spied on by your own government. Over at Wired, there’s a fine piece describing how the FBI’s wiretapping net works, with some kewt graphics. This is interesting in light of a federal judge recently striking down parts of the (so-called) Patriot Act for First Amendment violations, even though just last August, Bush signed a law making warrantless wiretapping totally legal. I’m not comforted to learn in the article that VeriSign handles part of the process, but amused that the FBI is flummoxed by Skype. Security geeks will love the comments on the last page. Snip:

The FBI has quietly built a sophisticated, point-and-click surveillance system that performs instant wiretaps on almost any communications device, according to nearly a thousand pages of restricted documents newly released under the Freedom of Information Act.
The surveillance system, called DCSNet, for Digital Collection System Network, connects FBI wiretapping rooms to switches controlled by traditional land-line operators, internet-telephony providers and cellular companies. It is far more intricately woven into the nation’s telecom infrastructure than observers suspected.
It’s a “comprehensive wiretap system that intercepts wire-line phones, cellular phones, SMS and push-to-talk systems,” says Steven Bellovin, a Columbia University computer science professor and longtime surveillance expert.
DCSNet is a suite of software that collects, sifts and stores phone numbers, phone calls and text messages. The system directly connects FBI wiretapping outposts around the country to a far-reaching private communications network.
Many of the details of the system and its full capabilities were redacted from the documents acquired by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, but they show that DCSNet includes at least three collection components, each running on Windows-based computers.


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