April 29, 2013

Task force to seek expanded wiretaps for online activity

The FBI wants to penalize tech firms such as Facebook and Google that fail to provide intercepted communications.

By ELLEN NAKASHIMA The Washington Post

(Continued from page 1)

Some technology companies have developed a wiretap capability for some of their services. But a range of communications companies and services are not required to do so under what is known as CALEA, the 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act. Among those services are social media networks and the chat features on online gaming sites.

Former officials say the challenge for investigators was exacerbated in 2010, when Google began end-to-end encryption of its email and text messages after its networks were hacked. Facebook followed suit. That made it more difficult for the FBI to intercept email by serving a court order on the Internet service provider, whose pipes would carry the encrypted traffic.

The proposal would make clear that CALEA extends to Internet phone calls conducted between two computer users without going through a central company server -- what is sometimes called "peer-to-peer" communication. But the heart of the proposal would add a provision to the 1968 Wiretap Act that would allow a court to levy fines.

Proponents say adding an enforcement provision to the 1968 Wiretap Act is a more politically palatable way of achieving that goal than by amending CALEA to redefine what types of companies should be covered.

Industry and privacy experts, including some former government officials, are skeptical. Some said a few companies will resist because they believe they might lose customers who have privacy concerns.


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