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See Inside September 2008

Internet Eavesdropping: A Brave New World of Wiretapping

As telephone conversations have moved to the Internet, so have those who want to listen in. But the technology needed to do so would entail a dangerous expansion of the government's surveillance powers

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As long as people have engaged in private conversations, eavesdroppers have tried to listen in. When important matters were discussed in parlors, people slipped in under the eaves—literally within the “eaves­drop”—to hear what was being said. When conversations moved to telephones, the wires were tapped. And now that so much human activity takes place in cyberspace, spies have infiltrated that realm as well.

Unlike earlier, physical frontiers, cyberspace is a human construct. The rules, designs and investments we make in cyberspace will shape the ways espionage, privacy and security will interact. Today there is a clear movement to give intelligence activities a privileged position, building in the capacity of authorities to intercept cyberspace communications. The advantages of this trend for fighting crime and terrorism are obvious.

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