Bill Totten's Weblog

Thursday, December 16, 2010

FBI Seeks Wider Wiretap Law for Web

by Charlie Savage

The New York Times (November 16 2010)

Robert S Mueller III, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, traveled to Silicon Valley on Tuesday to meet with top executives of several technology firms about a proposal to make it easier to wiretap Internet users.

Mr Mueller and the FBI's general counsel, Valerie Caproni, were scheduled to meet with senior managers of several major companies, including Google and Facebook, according to several people familiar with the discussions. How Mr Mueller's proposal was received was not clear.

"I can confirm that FBI Director Robert Mueller is visiting Facebook during his trip to Silicon Valley", said Andrew Noyes, Facebook's public policy manager. Michael Kortan, an FBI spokesman, acknowledged the meetings but did not elaborate.

Mr Mueller wants to expand a 1994 law, the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, to impose regulations on Internet companies.

The law requires phone and broadband network access providers like Verizon and Comcast to make sure they can immediately comply when presented with a court wiretapping order.

Law enforcement officials want the 1994 law to also cover Internet companies because people increasingly communicate online. An interagency task force of Obama administration officials is trying to develop legislation for the plan, and submit it to Congress early next year.

The Commerce Department and State Department have questioned whether it would inhibit innovation, as well as whether repressive regimes might harness the same capabilities to identify political dissidents, according to officials familiar with the discussions.

Under the proposal, firms would have to design systems to intercept and unscramble encrypted messages. Services based overseas would have to route communications through a server on United States soil where they could be wiretapped.

A Google official declined to comment. Mr Noyes said it would be premature for Facebook to take a position.

Bill Totten


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