Via Wired News and the Electronic Frontier Foundation:
The FBI has quietly built a sophisticated, point-and-click surveillance system that performs instant wiretaps on almost any communications device, according to nearly a thousand pages of restricted documents newly released under the Freedom of Information Act.
The surveillance system...connects FBI wiretapping rooms to switches controlled by traditional land-line operators, internet-telephony providers and cellular companies. It is far more intricately woven into the nation's telecom infrastructure than observers suspected.
Details of the system and its full capabilities were redacted from the documents acquired by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Together, the surveillance systems let FBI agents play back recordings even as they are being captured (like TiVo), create master wiretap files, send digital recordings to translators, track the rough location of targets in real time using cell-tower information, and even stream intercepts outward to mobile surveillance vans.
FBI wiretapping rooms in field offices and undercover locations around the country are connected through a private, encrypted backbone that is separated from the internet. Sprint runs it on the government's behalf.
The network allows an FBI agent in New York, for example, to remotely set up a wiretap on a cell phone based in Sacramento, California, and immediately learn the phone's location, then begin receiving conversations, text messages and voicemail pass codes in New York. With a few keystrokes, the agent can route the recordings to language specialists for translation.
The numbers dialed are automatically sent to FBI analysts trained to interpret phone-call patterns, and are transferred nightly, by external storage devices, to the bureau's Telephone Application Database, where they're subjected to a type of data mining called link analysis.