The White House is reportedly close to backing an FBI plan that would simplify online wiretapping by providing for significant fines against web services that refuse law enforcement requests. The New York Times reports that companies could face fines of up to $25,000 day if they fail to comply with judge-issued wiretap orders.
Companies are able to claim they can't implement a wiretap
Citing officials familiar with the deliberations, The Times reports that while the FBI’s original idea would have mandated every internet communications service to build in a backdoor for wiretaps, the modified proposal would instead focus on companies that don’t comply with judges’ orders. While current law requires companies to make good faith efforts to comply, they are able to claim they tried to implement a wiretap but couldn’t make it work. The new proposal would reportedly close this loophole.
The FBI has been pushing for some kind of stick to pry open web services to wiretapping since 2010, but the issue is only now coming to the fore. On top of the aforementioned fines, The Times had previously reported that the proposal would likely require encrypted message services to provide means for unscrambling, but the new proposal apparently does away with the requirement.
Still, there are a number of unanswered questions about the FBI plan, like how the new law would be applied to emerging companies without the resources to implement its requirements, and how law enforcement plans to go after foreign-based companies that refuse to comply. Many have also been critical of the proposal’s impact on security — exposing systems to wiretaps could also open up more surface area to hackers and others trying to gain access illicitly. "I think it’s a disaster waiting to happen,” said Columbia University Computer Science professor Steven M. Bellovin.
Correction: A previous version of this story stated that the FBI proposal would require encrypted web services to provide law enforcement with a key if served with a court order. That particular provision has reportedly been dropped from the plan.