Science, Tech & Environment

Government steps up cyber spying efforts

This story was originally covered by PRI's The Takeaway. For more, listen to the audio above.

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The US government doesn't have enough access to people's Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, Skype conversations and other online information, according to the Obama administration. In new regulations scheduled to be sent to Congress next year, the Obama administration wants to require that online companies provide "backdoors" that the government could enter through to grab people's personal information.

"It's a pretty broad and reaching invasion of your fourth amendment rights," Sascha Meinrath, the New America Foundation's Open Technology Initiative director, told PRI's The Takeaway. He says there is "a real question mark as to what exactly is being surveyed and when and who oversees it."

Proponents of the new regulations say that it's simply "business as usual with more people watching," Sami Saydjari, founder and president of Cyber Defense Agency, told The Takeaway. He says the new rules are an attempt to update laws for the digital age, and they're "relatively transparent."

Both Saydjai and Meinrat agree that oversight is needed in these online spying rules. Saydjari, however, stresses that the new rules require a court order to snoop on people's personal accounts. "This is really more about the big, centeralized service providers," Saydjari says, "not getting access to everybody's laptop."

"I think for the safety of our country," Saydjari stresses, "we need our law enforcement officials and our intelligence organizations to have access."

Meinrat, on the other hand, believes the entire idea of backdoor technologies are extremely dangerous. Governments aren't the only entities that may be able to take advantage of the situation, but other people could exploit the security systems, too. He says:

To take something that is meant and formulated to be a secure communications system and build a backdoor for government to use, it also creates a backdoor that can be used for malfeasance by both government and non-government people.

"The Takeaway" is a national morning news program, delivering the news and analysis you need to catch up, start your day, and prepare for what's ahead. The show is a co-production of WNYC and PRI, in editorial collaboration with the BBC, The New York Times Radio, and WGBH. More at thetakeaway.org