Microsoft Hands Cops Forensic Tools

Lucky day for users of Windows. It seems that Microsoft is handing tools to law enforcement around the world that gives quick and easy shortcuts to gather data from Windows machines for police forensics.

From the Seattle Times article today:

The COFEE, which stands for Computer Online Forensic Evidence Extractor, is a USB "thumb drive" that was quietly distributed to a handful of law-enforcement agencies last June. Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith described its use to the 350 law-enforcement experts attending a company conference Monday. The device contains 150 commands that can dramatically cut the time it takes to gather digital evidence, which is becoming more important in real-world crime, as well as cybercrime. It can decrypt passwords and analyze a computer's Internet activity, as well as data stored in the computer. It also eliminates the need to seize a computer itself, which typically involves disconnecting from a network, turning off the power and potentially losing data. Instead, the investigator can scan for evidence on site. More than 2,000 officers in 15 countries, including Poland, the Philippines, Germany, New Zealand and the United States, are using the device, which Microsoft provides free.

I wonder if Apple does something similar for OS X for police or maybe Mac users don’t commit crimes? If they do, they probably don’t tell everyone. :-) Another reason to use Linux, it seems.

On one hand, I understand the need for law enforcement to be able to gather evidence for criminal investigations. On the other hand, I find it extremely creepy that an operating system manufacturer (with a monopoly or near monopoly, effectively, as an operating system) is in bed with cops and developing tools internally for them. It isn’t like these could be abused by someone, right?

I also dislike this comment, especially, from Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith:

Smith compared the Internet of today to London and other Industrial Revolution cities in the early 1800s. As people flocked from small communities where everyone knew each other, an anonymity emerged in the cities and a rise in crime followed. The social aspects of Web 2.0 are like "new digital cities," Smith said. Publishers, interested in creating huge audiences to sell advertising, let people participate anonymously. That's allowing "criminals to infiltrate the community, become part of the conversation and persuade people to part with personal information," Smith said.

The tying of anonymity on the net with criminality is hyperbole, as far as I’m concerned. I’m surprised he didn’t attempt to link it to “terrorists” either since that seems to be the method of making people more paranoid at the moment.

Sure, if you are anonymous, you can commit crimes and it is difficult to know who you are but the root of the problem is the criminal behavior, not the anonymity. I can be anonymous in my day to day life, walking around my city, and commit crimes. You don’t find people declaring that the problem is that the guy who mugged someone was anonymous but that he mugged someone. Otherwise, we’d all have our names emblazoned on our clothes or broadcast through RFID or somesuch.

The net has a long tradition of anonymity, which I think is actually essential to its well being and societal good. It has acted as a place where people can say things or think thoughts (or write thoughts, more importantly) without worry about the impact it will have on them by being associated with their name. Ask the Chinese bloggers if this is important…