EBay, the online auction house, last year purchased Skype, an online service that lets people converse through their computers. Its 75 million users place voice calls over the Internet. The calls sound clear. They are free, because phone carriers aren't used. And because of the Internet's diffused architecture and its facility for privacy, Skypesters' identities, their locations, and the substance of their conversations can be undetectable.
Skype and other widely used Internet communications devices, including e-mail, threaten the NSA's ability to gather intelligence and to do so legally, National Journal reported Monday.
For more than four years, without warrants and by order of President George W. Bush, the NSA has hunted for terrorists by intercepting communications between people in the United States and people abroad suspected of links to terrorism.
The legality of that order is being hotly debated in Congress. Bush says that the 27-year-old Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which governs domestic eavesdropping for intelligence purposes, doesn't adequately address Internet-based communications.
However, in the opinion of some legal scholars and intelligence practitioners, lawmakers haven't faced this fact. Until they do, the NSA remains on shaky legal ground and at a strategic disadvantage against terrorists, who may rely on the Internet above all other tools for plotting their attacks, National Journal said.
When FISA became law in 1978, even rudimentary e-mail was years away from use. The law "did not anticipate the development of global communications networks," Kim Taipale, a technology law scholar and a member of the Task Force on National Security in the Information Age, a nonpartisan panel supported by the Markle Foundation that has produced assessments of technology's role in counter-terrorism, told National Journal.