Privacy SOS

Spy Tech: FBI seeks end-to-end encrypted mesh network for surveillance data transmissions

The FBI has published a request for information (RFI) for a “Tactical Mesh/mobile ad hoc network (MANET) solution… to improve bandwidth utilization, provide higher quality surveillance data transmissions, and mitigate potential security threats.”  The mesh network will serve as an alternative to commercial cellular networks to “provide a high-bandwidth network over a specific coverage area or mobile environment,” the FBI RFI states.

The mesh network, which the FBI hopes to implement in 2017, will be used for a variety of purposes in a diverse set of circumstances, according to the RFI, including in low profile, overt, and covert missions, to transmit video surveillance and device and sensor information through encrypted channels: 

  • Fixed – permanent or long term placements providing for connectivity and data egress;
  • Mobile – deployable for situational awareness at locations providing for connectivity and data egress as required to support events or situations;
  • Vehicle – capability to use multiple vehicles to augment communication links and provide access points for data egress and the ability to transition between network mesh deployments;
  • Large capacity public venues missions such as stadiums/arenas or wide-area venues such as marathons or multi-site events in challenging RF environments, particularly in dense urban environments;
  • Ad hoc – rapidly deployable short-term implementations.

The FBI appears to want a highly mobile, flexible, easy to use system that will keep track of how FBI personnel use it, as well as keep unauthorized users from even knowing it exists. “The solution shall support auditing for purposes of evidentiary chain of custody, insider threat investigation, unauthorized attempts to exploit/manipulate data,” the RFI states. As well as requiring the system to support VPNs and end to end encryption, the FBI wants it to make sure it won’t broadcast any information that would enable a hacker or other intruder to identify that there’s a mesh network nearby. “The solution shall not broadcast Service Set Identifiers (SSID) or other identifying information of the node or system,” the FBI writes. “Manufacturer chipset ID to be hidden or spoofed as commercial device. When using a sniffer, Wi-Fi chipsets or BT shall not show the manufacturer ID.”

This is the same FBI that has been warning the public about the public safety dangers of encryption products. Security for FBI agents, but not for us? Do what I say, not as I do? Hmmm.

© 2017 ACLU of Massachusetts.