The latest news regarding the United States’ government’s overreach in the surveillance of citizens was revealed in a CNet report on Thursday. According to the report, the government has demanded that some of the major Internet companies hand over their web sites’ users’ passwords. Two industry sources knowledgeable of the government’s demands have anonymously spoken out about this formerly-unknown method of the federal government’s surveillance of Americans.
The report says that the government would obviously be able to use a person’s passwords to access their private information. Additionally, password access to users’ accounts obviously gives others the opportunity to impersonate an individual online.
It is common knowledge that most passwords on web sites are encrypted – as the password does not actually show up when entered by keystrokes, To go around this, the government sometimes tells the major Internet companies that it wants the algorithms and salts that go with the password. Algorithms and salts are terms used in cryptography – the practice of securing communications in the presence of third parties. Sometimes, the demands for passwords include the secret question data associated with the users so that there are fewer problems in accessing users’ accounts.
Yet, major Internet companies such as Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo have refused to officially say if they have received requests from the federal government for users’ passwords. When asked if they have accommodated the feds with the handing-over of passwords, both companies suggested that they haven’t.
As for other major Internet companies such as Facebook, AT&T, Apple, Verizon, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and AOL, they refused to respond to any questions about whether or not the federal government has asked them to reveal users’ passwords, as well as algorithms and salts.
In Nixonian fashion, FastMail – a smaller company than the Internet giants of the day – responded by saying that the company doesn’t recall receiving governmental requests for passwords.
When the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was contacted about the story, they refused to comment. Of course, the Patriot Act has been criticized for being too broad in that the government is not only requesting information about individuals – but about entire databases as with the telephone data controversy that went viral months ago. Critics of the law claim that the federal government has much too much authority in accessing near-limitless information about individuals.