An FBI proposal to make it easier to wiretap high-speed Internet communications is drawing criticism from businesses and privacy experts, who fear it could stifle technological innovation and allow too much monitoring of online conversations.
The FBI already has the power to tap phone calls and review e-mails and instant messages, as long as it has a court order. But phone calls made via Internet connections, an increasingly common technology, are more difficult to tap.
Now law enforcement agencies, saying their ability to track terrorists and other criminals is at stake, have asked the Federal Communications Commission to force providers of high-speed Internet access to retool their networks to ease eavesdropping — while passing the costs along to consumers.
On Monday, the FCC will close its 30-day comment period on the FBI request. A debate already is raging about whether the retooled networks would provide enough safeguards to prevent the government from intercepting online communications between innocent parties.
The FBI doesn't just want to subpoena suspicious communications after they have been sent, but rather to monitor instant messages and e-mails as they are being exchanged, said Dave Baker, vice president for public policy at EarthLink Inc., an Internet service provider based in Atlanta.
“This would radically change how the Internet develops,” said John Morris, staff counsel for the Center for Democracy and Technology, a public interest group based in Washington. “If the FBI has its way, the companies themselves will go overseas because tech innovation will leave the United States.” [Privacy Digest]