US wants to ease telecom wiretapping: report
An Obama administration taskforce is seeking to overhaul a federal law requiring telephone and broadband carriers to ensure their networks can be wiretapped, The New York Times reported Tuesday (link).
Law enforcement and counterterrorism officials from the Justice and Commerce Departments, the FBI and other federal agencies told the Times tougher legislation was necessary because some telecommunications firms have launched new services and system upgrades that impede surveillance.
As part of their draft legislation to expand and strengthen the 1994 law, the officials want more legal incentives and penalties to push AT&T, Comcast, Verizon and other carriers to make sure any changes to their networks will not disrupt efforts to conduct wiretaps, the report added.
According to the Times, President Barack Obama’s administration intends to submit a package of draft legislation to Congress next year. Citing officials familiar with the deliberations, it noted there was still no agreement over the details.
Officials cited two previously undisclosed episodes during which major carriers struggled for weeks or months when they tried to comply with court-approved wiretap orders in criminal or terrorism investigations.
The newspaper said the FBI spends about 20 million dollars a year on efforts to help companies fix such problems.
Last month, the Times reported that the White House is also pushing to require all online services that enable communications — such as Gmail, Facebook, BlackBerry and Skype — to be technically capable of complying with a wiretap order, bringing them under the law’s mandate for the first time.
Among proposals floated by the Obama administration, one would increase the likelihood that a firm would pay a fine for wiretapping lapses, while another would create incentives for companies to show new systems to the FBI before implementing them, the Times said.