A government task force is preparing legislation that would fine tech companies like Facebook and Google if they did not allow authorities access for wiretapping purposes, according to a recent report in The Washington Post. In an age where online communications are becoming the norm, the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) is afraid that, by not being able to tap social media sites, they’re missing out on a vast trove of potentially valuable information. Law enforcement officials typically back off from private companies, but they now say that their inability to listen in to crooks on the web, or the “going dark” problem, is beginning to hurt their efforts.
“The importance to us is pretty clear,” said Andrew Weissmann, the FBI’s general counsel. “We don’t have the ability to go to court and say, ‘We need a court order to effectuate the intercept.’ Other countries have that. Most people assume that’s what you’re getting when you go to a court.”
Until this point, tech companies have had the ability and leverage to say no to law enforcement officials. However, the proposed legislation could fine companies like Facebook tens of thousands of dollars for failing to comply with wiretap orders, and companies that did not comply could face a judicial inquiry. However, the proposed legislation would allow each website to build their own wiretapping technologies based on their structures and needs, so long as it obtained the desired information for the feds. No matter what the nitty-gritty details of the law are, one thing is certain: as more criminals take their activity online, law enforcement officials will seek any and all ways to catch them.
“Today, if you’re a tech company that’s created a new and popular way to communicate, it’s only a matter of time before the FBI shows up with a court order to read or hear some conversation,” Michael Sussmann, a lawyer who represents technology firms, told The Washington Post. “If the data can help solve crimes, the government will be interested.”