The United States may soon require Internet companies to build in the capacity to let federal investigators wiretap their users, according to The New York Times.
The Obama administration is weighing a proposal that would fine companies that do not comply with wiretap orders. An earlier proposal by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) would have required all companies to build in this capacity from the outset — a costly mandate that critics worried would stifle tech innovation and small businesses.
Attorney Albert Gidari Jr., who specializes in representing technology companies, told the Times: “We’ll look at lot more like China than America after this.”
On the other hand, an FBI attorney told the Times that the proposal merely extends current law applied to telephone networks onto IP-based networks, which are treated differently. Domestic wiretapping requests would still require a court order.
The Times report notes that the FBI’s proposal would apply equally to U.S. and foreign companies that do business in the U.S., and fines max out at $25,000 per day of noncompliance. Companies would have 30 days after notification of a wiretap order to consult with the government to resolve technical issues.
It’s not clear yet if the White House will send this proposal to Congress, but if they do it’s sure to ignite another major debate on Internet freedom and privacy rights not unlike the struggle over network neutrality and the push-back against the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA).