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White House Considers FBI Plan for Internet Wiretaps

Image: White House Considers FBI Plan for Internet Wiretaps

By Melanie Batley   |   Wednesday, 08 May 2013 09:16 AM

The White House may be close to signing off on a plan that would greatly expand the FBI's ability to carry out wiretaps over the Internet, which is increasingly replacing the telephone as the main line of communication for people, including suspected criminals and terrorists.

The plan would revise the 1994 wiretapping law that required phone and mobile network carriers to build interception capabilities into their systems to take into account the new communication technologies that have evolved over the past 20 years, The New York Times reported Wednesday.

The new plan presented to the White House by the FBI would put in place a similar mandate on Internet service providers, social networks, and other chat and messaging platforms that would allow law enforcement officials to capture and follow communication trails more easily with a court-approved order.

Companies who don't or can't comply with wiretap orders within a specific deadline would face a fine starting at $25,000 a day.

The FBI has argued the move is necessary to preserve its longstanding ability to investigate suspected criminals in an age where communications is increasingly online and reliance on phone surveillance could lead to trails "going dark."

"This doesn't create any new legal surveillance authority," Andrew Weissmann, general counsel of the FBI, told the Times. "This always requires a court order. None of the 'going dark' solutions would do anything except update the law, given means of modern communications."

But lawyers for Internet companies and advocates for online privacy say the measure could increase the frequency and consequences of hacking while discouraging new Internet technology start-ups.

"I think the FBI's proposal would render Internet communications less secure and more vulnerable to hackers and identity thieves," Gregory Nojeim of the Center for Democracy and Technology, told the Times.

"It would also mean that innovators who want to avoid new and expensive mandates will take their innovations abroad and develop them there, where there aren't the same mandates."

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