Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Would Legislation Be Un-Social?

I read today that technologies are making our younger generations less equipped to do things on their own, i.e. use a paperback thesaurus, tie their own shoes, remove ice cubes from a tray. Is this because online wordfinders, velcro shoes and automatic icemakers have made these needs obsolete -- or is it that they spend so much time Googling, Facebooking, Tweeting, etc. that little time is left for real interaction and physical "doing"?

I would argue it's combination of both, born from a constant attachment to IPhone, Androids, Blackberries and some, still their laptops.

I am not here to judge whether time spent online is hindering or helping their socialization, common sense or educational progress. I am sure there is data to argue both sides of that debate. But when online time overtakes offline time -- we now text more than we call; we teleconference and online chat a whole lot more than we business travel-- we need to examine the law enforcement ramifications.

When an investigation is underway, law enforcement personnel utilize monitoring techniques and surveillance systems to record conversations and phonecalls. But when criminals elect to text rather than talk, or kidnappers Skype their demands, we are unequivocally behind the technology times. Presently, there is no way to access these types of communications in real time, severely hindering criminal investigations -- especially those involving suspected terrorism.

The Obama administration is seeking to remedy this disadvantage with its initiative to require social media and voice-over-technology companies to build in a way for law enforcement personnel to monitor these types of communication, when the need calls for it. As of now, applications such as Facebook, Twitter, Sykpe and others do not have this capability.

Always sensitive to the personal privacy versus public safety argument, the FBI, Justice Department and National Security Council, remind us that this is not a new, more expansive stance -- yet an extension of the already existing CALEA Act of 1987 which grants court-ordered access to telecommunications methods during criminal investigations.
I am not sure why this proposal has been bandied about for the past two years without any real movement taken. As the discussions have occurred, the prevalence of social media and encryption technologies has skyrocketed over the same time period. Law enforcement's reach into these media has been well outpaced by the actual media themselves.

So while some public safety software and equipment companies are utilizing these innovative and cutting edge technologies to prevent and report on crimes, shouldn't we also be able to monitor those applications that may be used to counter our very advancements? The technology should even playing fields -- and when there's an advantage to be given, shouldn't it be on the side of law enforcement, and not just on the side of the Velcro-wearing, ice-cube ignorant uber-online addicts?

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