FBI seeks to fine tech companies failing to comply with real-time wiretaps

May 1, 2013
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FBI seeks to fine tech companies failing to comply with real-time wiretaps

A new proposal from the government would require tech companies like Facebook or Google to allow law enforcement to place real-time wiretaps on a suspect's communication mediums, like messaging apps, emails, and more. Law officials would present a court-ordered request to the companies, and if the companies don't comply, they would receive a fine amounting to tens of thousands of dollars. If they choose not to pay the fine after 90 days, the fines will double each day afterwards.

This information comes from current and former U.S. officials who discussed the new proposal with the Washington Post. They say that the FBI is concerned that without having access to real-time communications from suspects, they could be missing out on critical evidence. Michael Sussmann, a former federal prosecutor and partner at the law firm Perkins Coie's, stated that if there's data that can be used to solve crimes, "the government will be interested." He also says,

"Today, if you're a tech company that's created a new and popular way to communicate, it's only a matter of time before the FBI shows up with a court order to read or hear some conversation."

The proposal would let companies come up with their own ways to implement a wiretap-like feature. As long as the companies are able to come up with a solution that provides the FBI the information it needs, anything can work. In 2005, the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), was expanded to require service providers and VoIP providers to implement real-time interception in their products. Now the FBI is seeking to expand the CALEA to cover social networks, messengers, and even online games as well.

The proposal has drawn a lot of criticism from civil rights groups, companies, and experts. Many companies assure their users before signing up that they will protect their privacy, so being required to implement wiretaps would result in a loss of customers for these companies. The wiretaps are also potentially susceptible to attacks from hackers seeking to use the wiretaps to spy on people and obtain sensitive information. Greg Nojeim, Senior Counsel at the Center for Democracy and Technology, stated,

"This proposal is a non-starter that would drive innovators overseas and cost American jobs. They might as well call it the Cyber Insecurity and Anti-Employment Act."

[via Washington Post]


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