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New Technologies Give Government Ample Means to Track Suspects, Study Finds

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??U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation director James B. Comey.

Federal Bureau of Investigation director James B. Comey is one of several Justice Department officials who have said moves by technology firms to encrypt data have choked off critical ways to monitor suspects.

Credit: Kevin Hagen/The New York Times

U.S. intelligence agencies' persistent warning that encrypted communications will prevent them from tracking criminals is greatly distorted, as new technologies are creating many opportunities for the government to monitor suspects, according to a new study from Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet and Society.

The researchers say technologies are "being packed with sensors and wireless connectivity," which are expected to become the subject of court orders and subpoenas, and already are the target of the U.S. National Security Agency as it augments networks worldwide to track communications abroad via "implants."

The Harvard study involved officials, technical experts, and others who are or have been on the forefront of counterterrorism.

Harvard professor Jonathan Zittrain says the group was convened to discuss the issue and go beyond its sticking points "in part by thinking of a larger picture, specifically in the unexpected ways that surveillance might be attempted." He points out the current debate rarely acknowledges the Internet of Things, in which telemetry from everyday appliances could be obtainable via subpoena from governments around the world.

"Law enforcement or intelligence agencies may start to seek orders compelling Samsung, Google, Mattel, Nest, or vendors of other networked devices to push an update or flip a digital switch to intercept the ambient communications of a target," the report warned.

From The New York Times
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