Feds Seek To Enforce Internet Wiretaps Using Fines
May 1, 2013

Feds Seek To Force Internet Wiretap Compliance By Fining Web Firms

Michael Harper for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online

The Washington Post published a report today claiming that a “government task force” is getting ready to propose legislation which would fine Internet companies that do not allow law enforcement agencies to access communication between their users.

The article cites an unnamed source familiar with the effort, and says that this proposal would give the federal government the same access to Facebook and Google as it already has for phone service providers. These companies would be able to choose in which way the government accesses this information, but refusal to let them do so would result in a fine. This fine would then double if not paid within three months.

For years, technology has been growing much faster than legislators´ understanding of it or law enforcement´s adoption of it. This unnamed government task force is looking to impose existing wiretapping laws on Internet companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter to trace criminal or terroristic activity online. As it currently stands, the government is not able to track conversations on Facebook or other Internet services in real time as they are with phone calls or text messages.

According to the Washington Post piece, federal officials have asked these companies for their participation in the past but backed down when they were faced with hard-nosed reluctance to hand over access to their users´ activity and information.

“The importance to us is pretty clear,” said Andrew Weissmann, the FBI´s general counsel in a discussion last month at the American Bar Association.

“We don´t have the ability to go to court and say, ℠We need a court order to effectuate the intercept.´ Other countries have that. Most people assume that´s what you´re getting when you go to a court.”

Though this proposed plan may give businesses the option to dictate how these wiretaps will operate, it´s already receiving staunch opposition from a panoply of privacy advocates.

“This proposal is a non-starter that would drive innovators overseas and cost American jobs,” said Greg Nojeim, a senior counsel member for the privacy group Center for Democracy and Technology, in a statement to the Post.

“They might as well call it the Cyber Insecurity and Anti-Employment Act.”

Another member of the Center for Democracy and Technology says this legislation could make communication even less secure and give the FBI greater access to users´ information.

"At the very time when the nation is concerned about cyber security, the FBI proposal has the potential to make our communications less secure. Once you build a wiretap capability into products and services, the bad guys will find a way to use it," said Joe Hall, a staff technology with the privacy advocacy group in an interview with PCMag.

One unnamed source told Bloomberg BNA that this proposal won´t give the feds more access but rather give them a means by which to access information when they need it.

“This is not about expanding what can be wiretapped or the standard for obtaining a wiretap, but making sure that companies that are already subject to wiretap orders are ready to comply,” explained an unnamed source speaking to Bloomberg.

“The only thing this changes is the economic incentive for companies to develop technical solutions to facilitate wiretaps.”