U.S. Agencies Want a Snooper Highway

Rhett Pardon
WASHINGTON, D.C. – A new Justice Department proposal would create sweeping new wiretap rules for the Internet.

Justice, along with the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration, are seeking to require all new Internet applications and services be wiretap-ready before they are introduced to the market.

“Otherwise, criminals and terrorists will gain potentially large windows of opportunity to evade lawful surveillance,” according to a 72-page petition submitted to the Federal Communications Commission.

The petition, first filed with the FCC on Wednesday, was spurred in part by the rapid rise of Internet telephony, which also would be covered under the request. The FBI said it fears the technology could be used to avoid wiretaps on conventional phones.

If the petition is granted by the FCC, every facet of Internet-based services would be covered, including the cable or telephone conduits providing the high-speed transmission, the Internet service provider and providers of applications riding on broadband, such as Internet telephony.

Law enforcement agencies already have the ability to wiretap Internet transmissions with court order. And communications providers have been forced to design their networks and equipment so that police can efficiently conduct wiretaps after congress passed the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act.

In the latest proposal, the law enforcement agencies asked that the FCC rapidly determine that Internet services must facilitate wiretaps, even before the agency writes detailed rules.

“Without such a preliminary determination from the Commission, law enforcement remains deeply concerned that development of interception capabilities regarding these services will continue to be delayed – to the detriment of effective law enforcement – while the outcome of this proceeding is debated,” the petition said.