The new regulations would mandate social networking companies, encrypted e-mail transmitters, and voice-over-Internet service providers to make technical modifications to allow snoops direct access to encrypted communications. As it stands, government agencies often need to get decrypted versions of tapped messages and discussions from service providers, which often requires a court order.
The announced measure represents one of the latest government inroads against privacy rights under the pretext of the fight against terrorism. The new proposals would apply to all providers of communications services to the U.S. market.
The proposed legislation would expand upon the 1994 Communications Assistance to Law Enforcement Act, which requires all phone and broadband companies to build interception capabilities into their networks.
Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said over the past 15 years, especially since Sept. 11, 2001, the government has lowered requirements for getting a warrant. "The balance has swung radically toward enhanced law enforcement powers," he told AP.
The New York Times took note of the lack of any comment on the administration's plan by most online companies. "Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo, and Research in Motionnever shy about issuing press releasesall declined to talk about what would be a major shift in privacy law," the paper said.
In an additional attack on privacy, the Treasury Department proposed a new requirement for banksthey must report all electronic money transfers in and out of the country.
Defending the measure, James Freis Jr., director of the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, told the Times, "By establishing a centralized database, this regulatory plan will greatly assist law enforcement in detecting and ferreting out transnational organized crime, multinational drug cartels, terrorist financing and international tax evasion."
Currently banks are required to report cash transactions above $10,000, keep records on all electronic transfers in and out of the country over $3,000, and provide that information to law enforcement officials if asked.
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