Feds want to fine companies that refuse wiretap requests

wiretapBy Iain Thomson

Draft legislation to impose fines on companies that refuse to provide wiretap facilities to US federal agents is in the planning stages, government officials have told the Washington Post under condition of anonymity.

Initial plans are for an automatic fine for refusal in the range of tens of thousands of dollars, an amount that would escalate over time. After 90 days, a judicial review would be held which could double the monetary reparations and possibly impose extra charges.

“The importance to us is pretty clear,” FBI general counsel Andrew Weissmann told the American Bar Association last month. “We don’t have the ability to go to court and say, ‘We need a court order to effectuate the intercept.’ Other countries have that. Most people assume that’s what you’re getting when you go to a court.”

The proposals being prepared by a government taskforce do appear to exempt smaller companies (although that’s a worryingly vague term), and doesn’t mandate the method for gaining the information required – that would be left up to the companies concerned to provide if they comply.

Federal forces protest that they have been outfoxed by moves such as the shift to https and messaging encryption, and rules are needed to ensure they get the data they claim to need promptly. While Congress dilly-dallies on the issue, it appears that the Obama administration is going to throw its own proposals into the ring.

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