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FBI Making Real-Time Gmail Spying "Top Priority"

By tech editor Ian Bush

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Laws passed in the 1980s and 90s haven't kept up with the way we communicate these days. The FBI says it's making it tough for them to crack down on crime. The Bureau wants to be able to spy in real-time, but that's opening wide the door to privacy concerns.

With subpoenas and warrants, the feds can get copies of legacy emails, but they can't listen in on Skype or Gchat.

"The FBI is looking to address the 'going dark' problem," says Rob D'Ovidio, associate professor of criminal justice at Drexel University.

'Going dark' is when shady characters turn to technologies not covered by landline-era laws. D'Ovidio says they include Gmail, cloud services like Dropbox, chats in online games such as Words With Friends, Scrabble, and even over Xbox Live.

"We know that criminal organizations are using them," D'Ovidio says. "Whether they're street gangs, child pornographers, or terrorist members -- they're using simple video game embedded communication tools. So the FBI is just saying we need a level playing field."

The FBI wants to be able to listen in and to watch text chats as they happen. Its argument?

"Our laws need to be flexible to keep pace with technology, because the criminals take advantage of these new services," D'Ovidio explains. "Criminals are using technologies and tools that neither the FBI nor their counterparts in other law enforcement agencies have the capability to monitor in real time. "

The FBI's general counsel calls it a "top priority" in 2013.

People concerned with giving Big Brother another shoulder to look over will want to stay on their representatives in Washington, DC to ensure privacy is protected.

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