From the Security Experts

May 24, 2012

FBI's New Surveillance Unit Targets Online, VoIP Communications and Social Networks

By SIP Trunking Report Contributing Writer

According to an article from the Verge, CNET reported today the FBI has quietly introduced a new Web surveillance unit, charged with developing new ways to intercept online, wireless and voice over IP (VoIP) communications.

The Bureau has been generally tight-lipped about the new unit, called the Domestic Communications Assistance Center (DCAC). CNET, however, was able to piece together information through interviews and by reviewing government documents.

DCAC is reportedly designed to cover a broad range of surveillance and security issues, as its duties include intercepting Skype Messages – which puts a relatively different spin on Microsoft's "Skype everywhere" initiative – building wiretap devices and acting as a sort of "surveillance help desk" for local, state and federal authorities.

The unit will also be responsible for any data a social network or service provider submits in response to court orders.

According to a source close to the matter, DCAC is still in the process of being launched and is not yet operational. But one Justice Department document maintains the agency is "recently established."

This isn't too much of a surprise since the FBI has, for a long time, pushed for a more comprehensive approach to electronic surveillance since recent encryption developments have made it more difficult for investigators to intercept communications.

Meanwhile, in February, Valeri Caproni, general counsel at the time, testified before the House Judiciary Committee to argue for new legislation which would require social networks and wireless providers to have clear procedures for revealing encrypted data to the government by request.

Internal documents suggest the DCAC has been in the works since as early as 2008, when FBI director Robert Mueller received a briefing on it. Since then, there has been barely any mention of the unit, nor any formal announcements, with only passing mentions in budget requests and senate appropriations hearings to acknowledge its existence.

While the secrecy of the unit has raised concerns among civil libertarians, the FBI provided a statement in response, stating that the DCAC will only provide the technical foundation for wiretap investigations and will not actually perform any surveillance itself.

Edited by Braden Becker