more warrantless wiretaps

We just got a new law to go alongside everyone’s favorite, the Patriot Act. It’s called the Protect America Act, and it expands the Bush administration’s ability to perform surveillance on, well, pretty much whoever they want. It’s not clear why they need this, as they usually tend to just do whatever they want regardless of legality; perhaps they’re getting afraid of the personal repercussions that could come down on illegal activity now that the democrats have started showing a little spine?

As usual, the lawmakers are way behind the technological curve, and thus their efforts won’t actually be effective against terrorists with half a brain. That’s because there’s now this little thing called VOIP, which makes voice data simple to encrypt. In fact, all you have to do is run this simple app called zfone and all the feds will hear is binary scramble if they try to listen to you. The new law will, however, be effective for spying on most of the naive public, and once the feds figure out that the people they really want to listen to are encrypting their traffic, do you think they’ll want to give up the ability to listen to the rest of us? Not likely.

One glimmer of hope here is the VOIP encryption software itself. It does not require “public key infrastructure” (a way of securely distributing public keys and managing trust relationships that often ends up being quite complicated and burdensome), which has always been a major hurdle for encrypted email. For encrypted VOIP, all you need is for both sides to have the encryption software–easy for those who are moderately technically-inclined, and maybe even easy enough for the VOIP phone vendors to pick up on it.

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