The Justice Department wants to expand the government’s ability to monitor online traffic significantly, says the Washington Post. Justice propses that providers of high-speed Internet service should be forced to grant easier access for FBI wiretaps and other electronic surveillance. A petition filed with the Federal Communications Commission suggests that consumers should be required to pay the bill.
Law enforcement agencies are increasingly concerned that fast-growing telephone service over the Internet could be a way for terrorists and criminals to evade surveillance. The petition moves beyond Internet telephony, leading technology experts and privacy advocates to warn that many types of online communication, including instant messages and visits to Web sites, could be covered. The federal proposal could require extensive retooling of existing broadband networks at significant costs, experts said. Privacy advocates argue that there are not enough safeguards to stop the government from intercepting data from innocent users.
Justice Department lawyers argue in the FCC petition that Internet broadband and online telephone providers should be treated the same as telephone companies, which are required to provide access for wiretaps and other monitoring of voice communications. The department complains that many providers do not comply with existing wiretap rules and that rapidly changing technology is limiting the government’s ability to track terrorists and other threats.
James X. Dempsey of the Center for Democracy & Technology, a public interest group, said the FBI is attempting to dictate how the Internet should be engineered to permit whatever level of surveillance law enforcement deems necessary. “The breadth of what they are asking for is a little breathtaking,” Dempsey said. “The question is, how deeply should the government be able to control the design of the Internet? . . . If you want to bring the economy to a halt, put the FBI in charge of deploying new Internet and communications services.”