Government Plans to Fine Internet Companies for Refusing Wiretaps

Wednesday, May 01, 2013
(graphic: AP)

Seeking to foil terrorism and criminal plots, the Obama administration wants Congress to adopt legislation that would fine Internet companies for not going along with Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) intercepts of electronic communications.


A federal task force recommended a proposal that would penalize businesses like Facebook, Google and others that don’t comply with wiretap orders authorizing the government to spy on Americans’ emails and messages.


Under the proposed plan, a company could face a series of escalating fines for not turning over information sought by the FBI and other federal law enforcement agencies. The fines would begin at tens of thousands of dollars and, after 90 days, would double every day for noncompliance.


The FBI has cited increasing use of the Internet, rather than phones, for public communication as the reason for its need to monitor online traffic. Not having the ability to tap into Internet communications will result in “a very real risk of the government ‘going dark’ resulting in an increased risk to national security and public safety,” said FBI Director Robert Mueller in U.S. Senate testimony. The agency’s general counsel, Andrew Weissmann, has said that wiretapping the Internet is currently the FBI’s “top priority.”


A lobbying group representing Internet companies has vowed to fight the legislation, saying the plan is “dead on arrival.”


“The Department of Justice has not made the case for granting law enforcement broad new powers over Internet companies for purposes of new wiretap authority. There are a number of serious unintended consequences with this flawed proposal,” Michael Beckerman, CEO of The Internet Association, told The Hill in an emailed statement.


One of those consequences, according to Joe Hall, senior technologist for the Center for Democracy and Technology, is that it will make the Internet more vulnerable to hackers. “Once you build a wiretap capability into products and services, the bad guys will find a way to use it,” he told The Hill.


Other potential consequences are that the FBI program would hurt the job market by sending Internet innovators overseas, and cause online services to lose customers due to increased privacy concerns.

-Noel Brinkerhoff, Danny Biederman


To Learn More:

Panel Seeks to Fine Tech Companies for Noncompliance with Wiretap Orders (by Ellen Nakashima, Washington Post)

Internet Lobby Vows 'Wiretap Mandate' will be 'Dead on Arrival' in Congress (by Brendan Sasso, The Hill)

Obama Expands Wiretap Authority to Cover Finance, Healthcare and Other Industries (by Matt Bewig, AllGov)

Obama Working on Plan to Wiretap Skype, Facebook, BlackBerrys (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)    

Obama Administration Wants FBI to Access Web Browsing History without Warrant (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)


anonymouse 3 years ago
I for one would be interested in doing business with any firm that stood up for my civil liberties. Publish a list of ISPs that resist unwarranted surveillance, please.
Paul Kruger 3 years ago
While we may not be able to keep government snoops from listening we can make it hard for them to know what you say online...or who you are. Read my info here. You can use encryption every bit as strong as governments. You can use VPN's to surf, email etc. from a server half way around the world while encrypting your traffic. It was even with assistance from our government that the encrypted means to communicate called TOR was developed to assist dissidents on other nations to communicate without exposure to being identified. It is free: I'm not worried about providing this information because those who really want to hide something already know about this. If enough of us use them we will fill their databases of eavesdropping with mostly useless encrypted data to try to sort out...just to find nothing of interest.
Ray's Mom 3 years ago
There is no good cause for the government to wiretap ALL the population. The ones who need to be monitored can be with a court order. This will only cause more loss of our freedom of speech when specific words will not be allowed on the Internet.

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