The FBI has begun to launch a new spy center demurely named the Domestic Communications Assistance Center (DCAC) in Quantico, Va.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice budget for "strengthening national security," the DCAC will "leverage existing research and development efforts of federal law enforcement, facilitate the sharing of technology between law enforcement agencies, strengthen compliance with the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), and seek to build more effective relations with the communications industry."
CNET, which recently wrote an in-depth story where it "pieced together information about its operations," condenses the above explanation to say that the center's goal is to "invent technology that will let police more readily eavesdrop on Internet and wireless communications."
In addition to the FBI, U.S. Marshals Service and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) will also be involved in the operations of the center, which CNET speculates will include everything from "trying to intercept and decode Skype conversations to building custom wiretap hardware or analyzing the gigabytes of data that a wireless provider or social network might turn over in response to a court order."
CNET points to a couple things said by FBI officials and a recent job posting from which it gleaned some information about the center. It reports that last year, then-FBI general counsel Valerie Caproni made a passing comment that alluded to the DCAC creating "individually tailored" surveillance technology to target specific individuals or companies potentially involved in criminal activity. It also makes note of a recent job posting for the FBI, the deadline for which passed on May 2, that sought applicants with experience in "electronic surveillance standards" and "electronic surveillance solutions."
Here's more on some concerns reported by CNET over the center and how more information on it could soon emerge:
"The big question for me is why there isn't more transparency about what's going on?" asks Jennifer Lynch, a staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil liberties group in San Francisco. "We should know more about the program and what the FBI is doing. Which carriers they're working with -- which carriers they're having problems with. They're doing the best they can to avoid being transparent."
Eventually, the FBI may be forced to lift the cloak of secrecy that has surrounded the DCAC's creation. On May 2, a House of Representatives committee directed the bureau to disclose "participation by other agencies and the accomplishments of the center to date" three months after the legislation is enacted.
Here's some of what the FBI ended up sending CNET as a statement:
"[...] the NDCAC will have the functionality to leverage the research and development efforts of federal, state, and local law enforcement with respect to electronic surveillance capabilities and facilitate the sharing of technology among law enforcement agencies. Technical personnel from other federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies will be able to obtain advice and guidance if they have difficulty in attempting to implement lawful electronic surveillance court orders.
"It is important to point out that the NDCAC will not be responsible for the actual execution of any electronic surveillance court orders and will not have any direct operational or investigative role in investigations. It will provide the technical knowledge and referrals in response to law enforcement's requests for technical assistance."
Check out CNET's full article for more details that it has pieced together on the DCAC here.
[H/T Huffington Post]