United States President Barack Obama is likely to endorse a Federal Bureau of Investigation effort that would ensure all Internet companies in the US provide a way for the government to conduct undetected, backdoor surveillance.
The FBI has been considering solutions to their so-called “Going Dark” problem as intricate methods of encryption and advances in technology have made it increasingly difficult for the federal government and law enforcement to gain access to online communications conducted in the shadows of the Web. Should the latest efforts of the FBI move forward, though, Internet companies that act as any conduit for correspondence of any kind would be heavily fined if they don’t include in their infrastructure a way for the government to eavesdrop on that dialogue in real time.
At a press conference in Washington, DC in March, FBI general counsel Andrew Weissmann said the Department of Justice was determined to have the means to wiretap any online communication by 2014 and called it “a huge priority for the FBI.” Further developments last month revealed that the FBI was considering a fine-based model under which Internet companies would be forced to comply or risk being penalized beyond repair.
On Tuesday, New York Times reporter Charlie Savage cited Obama administration officials as saying the president “is on the verge of backing” that very plan.
Savage explained that while companies would be allowed to operate without giving the government backdoor access, the fees would likely limit the number of entities willing to challenge the order. As RT reported last month, a company that doesn’t comply with the FBI’s orders would be fined $25,000 after 90 days. Additional penalties would then be tacked on every day an Internet service provider, website or other company fails to comply — with the price of the penalty doubling each day they don’t assist investigators.
On Wednesday morning, CNET reporter Declan McCullagh wrote that the Justice Department circulated memos in which they insisted that obtaining a search warrant isn’t necessary to eavesdrop on Internet communication of any sort.
“The US Department of Justice and the FBI believe they don’t need a search warrant to review Americans’ e-mails, Facebook chats, Twitter direct messages and other private files, internal documents reveal,” wrote McCullagh, citing a government documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union and provided to CNET.
In one memo unearthed by the ACLU, McCullagh said the US attorney for Manhattan instructed his office that an easy-to-obtain legal paper that requires no judicial oversight is all that’s needed to obtain personal correspondence.
“[A] subpoena — a piece of paper signed by a prosecutor, not a judge — is sufficient to obtain nearly ‘all records from an ISP,’” McCullagh wrote.
In another instance, McCullagh said the US attorney in Houston, Texas obtained the “contents of stored communications" from another ISP without getting a judge to sign a warrant.
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