Proposal seeks to boost FBI's monitoring of social media

Posted Apr 30, 2013 by Layne Weiss
A government task force is preparing legislation that would pressure social media companies to let the FBI intercept communication right as it's happening.
The J. Edgar Hoover building, FBI headquarters
Photo by Aude (CC BY-SA 3.0)
The proposal is driven by FBI concerns that is currently unable to tap the Internet communications of terrorists and other criminals, The Washington Post reports. Companies such as Google or Facebook would be penalized for their failure to cooperate. Cooperation means heeding wiretap orders. Companies who refuse to heed the government's wiretap orders would be forced to pay very high monetary fines.
According to the proposal, companies would also be responsible for coming up with their own way of handing over the requested data to law enforcement. Mashable reports. Some ideas may include email exchanges or chat records.
Until now, the FBI would back off when social media companies were resistant to hand over certain data, The Washington Post notes. But now, officials are growing more worried over the "going dark" problem as critical evidence is being missed.
Currently, law enforcement uses CALEA, the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act to force phone companies and Internet providers to permit them to snoop on customers' phone calls and Internet sessions, Mashable reports. There is also the Electronic Communications Privacy Act or ECPA which allows officials to request access to users' stored emails and other electronic communications.
CALEA has become less useful over the years as digital communications providers are becoming less server-based and more cloud-based. If the proposal passes, it would change CALEA only slightly in that voice-over IP companies would not be exempt from wiretap requirements. Fines would be issued under an amendment to the Wiretap Act of 1968.
Naturally, social media companies aren't happy about this new proposal and a lobbying group representing companies such as Facebook, Google, and Yahoo is fighting back, The Hill reports.
"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. There are a number of serious unintended consequences with this flawed proposal," Michael Beckerman, the CEO of The Internet Association said in a statement. "A wiretap mandate for the Internet is dead on arrival," Beckerman added.