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FBI quietly forms a secretive Net surveillance unit

News has spread that the FBI has formed a Domestic Communications Assistance Center, which is tasked with developing a new electronic monitoring technology, including intercepting Internet, wireless, and VoIP communications.

The FBI has recently formed a secret surveillance unit in a grand goal of inventing a technology to let the police easily eavesdrop on Internet and wireless communications.

The establishment of the Quantico, Virginia-based unit, which is also staffed by agents from the U.S. Marshals Service and the Drug Enforcement Agency, is a response to technological developments that FBI officials believe outpace the ability of law enforcement to listen in on private communications.

The FBI is tight-lipped about the creation of its Communications Center Domestic Assistance, or DCAC as they declined to respond to the media inquiries about the unit’s objective.

DCAC’s objective is broad, covering everything from trying to intercept and decode Skype conversations to developing custom wiretap hardware or analysis of gigabytes of data that a wireless provider or social network can turn over in response to a court order. It is also designed to serve as a kind of surveillance help desk for state, local, and other federal police.

As the media reported recently, the FBI wants Internet companies to not oppose a proposed law that requires social networks and provider of VoIP, instant messaging, and e-mail, to develop backdoors for government surveillance.

During an appearance last year on Capitol Hill, then-FBI general counsel Valerie Caproni referred to in passing, without elaboration, to "individually tailored" solutions of surveillance and "very sophisticated criminals." Caproni said that the new laws that target social networks and VoIP conversations is necessary because "individually tailored solutions are the exception and not the rule."

Caproni was referring to the DCAC charge of creating customized technologies of surveillance aimed at a particular individual or company, according to a person familiar with the efforts in this area of ​​the FBI.

For its part, the FBI responded to the media query in a statement this week about the center, which also refers to as the National Domestic Communications Assistance Center, stating:

The NDCAC has the functionality to leverage the research and development efforts of federal, state, and local law enforcement with respect to the capabilities of electronic monitoring and facilitate the sharing of technology in law enforcement agencies. Technical personnel from other federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies is to get advice and guidance if they have difficulty in trying to implement electronic monitoring legal order of the court.

It is important to point out that NDCAC will not be responsible for actual implementation of any electronic surveillance court orders and not have any direct operational or investigative role in the investigation. It will provide technical expertise and referrals in response to law enforcement requests for technical assistance.