Tech Groups Oppose Internet Wiretapping Proposal

Internet and privacy associations warn against legislation being prepared that would allow law enforcement officials to access online communications and fine tech companies that don’t make their platforms surveillance-friendly.

Telephone wiretapping has been a fixture of criminal investigations for decades. Now, the FBI wants the same ability to tap the live online communications of people suspected of illegal activities, but the agency is running into resistance from the internet industry and privacy groups.

There are a number of serious unintended consequences with this flawed proposal. A wiretap mandate for the internet is dead on arrival.

A government task force, with the FBI’s support, is working on legislation that would amend the 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) to apply to internet companies as well as telecommunications firms. The new legislation would require internet companies such as Facebook, Twitter, Google, and Amazon to develop backdoors to their services that would allow easy access for government surveillance, and companies that do not comply with wiretap orders could be fined.

According to a CNET report, the FBI has been meeting with Internet companies, asking them to not oppose the controversial legislation, which they say is critical to tap into the real-time internet communications of suspected terrorists and other criminals. Despite the bureau’s efforts, several industry groups have already voiced their concerns.

Michael Beckerman, CEO of the Internet Association, released a statement that was highly critical of the proposal.

“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,” he said.
“There are a number of serious unintended consequences with this flawed proposal. A wiretap mandate for the internet is dead on arrival.”

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which has lobbied against CALEA expansion in the past, warned of the “perils of wiretapping the internet.”

“Existing laws already permit law enforcement to place internet users under surveillance regardless of what programs or protocols they are using to communicate,” EFF said in a statement. “Industry already cooperates with law enforcement to give it all the information requested, and this will continue to happen with or without a new [interpretation of] CALEA.”

Cybersecurity could be compromised by requiring backdoor access, the Software and Information Industry Association said in a statement released in 2011 and cosigned by various industry groups [PDF].

Joe Hall, a senior technologist for the Center for Democracy and Technology, echoed SIIA’s concerns.

“A wiretapping mandate is a vulnerability mandate,” Hall recently told The Hill. “Once you build a wiretap capability into products and services, the bad guys will find a way to use it.”


Rob Stott

By Rob Stott

Rob Stott is a contributing editor for Associations Now. MORE

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