Fines Could Loom for Companies That Ignore Wiretap Orders

Monday, 29 Apr 2013 11:55 AM

By Lisa Barron

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Companies that fail to allow law enforcement to intercept online communications from suspected terrorists and other criminals could face fines under legislation being drafted by a government task force.

The legislation would fine companies such as Facebook and Google if they don’t comply with court-authorized wiretap orders, reports The Washington Post. There now is no easy way to intercept some of the communications, the newspaper reported.

"The importance to us is pretty clear," said Andrew Weissmann, FBI general counsel, at an American Bar Association discussion on legal challenges posed by new social media and other technologies, according to The Post.

Even more focus has been put on intercepting communications of suspected criminals or terrorists in the aftermath of the April 15 Boston Marathon bombings since it was discovered that Tamerlan Tsarnaev — the suspect who was killed in a police shootout four days later — had previously been put on a watch list.

Under the proposed legislation, a court could impose escalating fines, starting at tens of thousands of dollars, on firms that fail to comply with wiretap orders. It would allow companies to develop the wiretap capability themselves as long as it was able to provide the information the government wanted.

There is likely to be resistance from several quarters, however.

"This proposal is a nonstarter that would drive innovators overseas and cost American jobs," Greg Nojeim, a senior counsel at the Center for Democracy and Technology, told the Post. "They might as well call it the Cyber Insecurity and Anti-Employment Act."

There also are bound to be concerns about civil liberties, the The Hill newspaper reported.
Speaking Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Utah GOP Rep. Jason Chaffetz warned that the government’s search of online information is approaching a “dangerous line.”

Chaffetz said that despite the need to catch potential terrorists, there has to be a balance between security and liberty, The Hill reported.

“We have a very dangerous line,” he said. “I don’t want my federal government going in and searching my Facebook page.”

But Marcus Thomas, former assistant director of the FBI’s Operational Technology Division, told the Post, “You want to give law enforcement the ability to have the data they’re legally entitled to get, at the same time not burdening industry and not opening up security holes.”

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