Government seeks to strong arm companies into spying on users

Last week, we reported on a rather disturbing revelation that the Department of Defense and NSA have been sending out so-called 2511 letters that absolve companies of legal consequences for violating the Wiretap Act by intercepting their users' communications. While the letters give ISPs and such incentive, they are no good if the company doesn't want to obey an order to grab data. To remedy this, a government task force is seeking to have companies that don't cooperate penalized.

The information comes from sources who are said to be both former and current officials who are familiar with the push. The FBI is said to be at the helm of the request, motivated by what it calls the "going dark" problem of not being able to access online-based communications and missing vital evidence or information because of it. For this reason, a government task force is pushing to have companies penalized for failing to comply with a wiretap order, which is usually achieved by claiming that a means of intercepting the communications is not possible.

Under the proposal, a company such as Google would need to establish a means of intercepting communications, with the freedom to do it however it wishes. If the company receives an order to intercept communications, under the proposal, it will need to do so or will face stiff fines, which are said to start out in the tens of thousands and only go up from there. Failing to follow the order will then lead to a hearing, with the fines doubling daily after 90 days.

Says the FBI's General Counsel Andrew Weissmann: "The importance to us is pretty clear. 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." Says the sources, the Obama administration has not signed off on the proposal, and all government agencies asked about the leak declined commenting on it.

[via Washington Post]