"Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please." (Mark Twain)
Tuesday, July 12, 2005
Federal law enforcement officials, fearful that terrorists will exploit emerging in-flight broadband services to remotely activate bombs or coordinate hijackings, are asking regulators for the power to begin eavesdropping on any passenger's internet use within 10 minutes of obtaining court authorization.
In joint comments filed with the FCC last Tuesday, the Justice Department, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security warned that a terrorist could use on-board internet access to communicate with confederates on other planes, on the ground or in different sections of the same plane -- all from the comfort of an aisle seat.
"There is a short window of opportunity in which action can be taken to thwart a suicidal terrorist hijacking or remedy other crisis situations on board an aircraft, and law enforcement needs to maximize its ability to respond to these potentially lethal situations," the filing reads.
The Justice Department hopes to do that with an FCC ruling that satellite-based in-flight broadband services are bound by the 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, the federal law that required telephone companies to modify their networks to be wiretap-friendly for the FBI.
CALEA was originally passed to preserve the Bureau's ability to eavesdrop on telephone calls in the digital age. But last year the FBI and Justice Department persuaded the FCC to interpret the law so it would apply to internet traffic over cable modems and DSL lines. The FCC has already expressed the view that in-flight broadband would likely be covered as well.
I confess that I was unaware that CALEA had already been applied to broadband Internet connections. Given that this is water under the bridge, there is no reason to think that in-flight Internet service will be treated differently. But, given that international terrorists are probably at least as smart as lone-wolf child molesters - at least one of which has already discovered the wonders of PGP (scroll down) - does anyone think this will really do much good?