Arguing that the Internet has allowed wiretap criminal and terrorism suspects to “go dark” by communicating online rather than by telephone, The New York Times is reporting that the Obama administration plans to submit a proposal that would create sweeping new Internet regulations. The goal of these new regulations would be to require any services that enable communications, including encrypted e-mail transmitters like BlackBerry, social networking sites like Facebook, and peer to peer messaging software like Skype to be technically capable of complying with a wiretap order. The regulations would also include allowing the federal government to intercept and unscramble encrypted messages.
The proposal has already raised the concerns of privacy and technology advocates who argue that the administration is essentially trying to re-tool the architecture of the Internet to make it function the way that the telephone system used to function. Beyond the standard concerns of big brother intercepting citizen communications, many worry that the regulations would stifle innovation and growth.
Law enforcement officials see it differently and argue that the regulations are in no way expanding powers that the FBI already has. Instead, the regulations would simply modernize that power to include technologies and communications previously unimagined.
The proposals are in the earliest stages of development but advocates pushing for the measures say they want to make sure it has a few key components. Among those are requirements that:
- Communications services that encrypt messages have a way to unscramble them;
- Foreign-based providers that do business inside the United States must install a domestic office capable of performing intercepts;
- Developers of software that enables peer-to-peer communication must redesign their service to allow interception
It is unclear what would happen to providers who failed to comply, should these proposals ultimately become law.
The earliest anyone expects to see a proposal to Congress is next year, though given the sweeping authority granted to the executive branch in the previous decade, there’s little reason to think that if Congress sees such a proposal it won’t give law enforcement the powers it’s after.
photo courtesy of oneras via Flickr