News & Politics

FBI Wants to Fine Companies That Refuse to Hand Over Your Online Communications

A proposed bill would pressure online companies to enable law enforcement to intercept communications.

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Get ready, Facebook and Google users: your online communications may be spied on by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) if they get their way. A federal task force is writing a bill that would pressure online companies to enable law enforcement to intercept communications online. The legislation would fine companies who refuse to hand over the communication records of people who use their programs, the Washington Post reports.

The FBI says they need the legislation, a top priority for the law enforcement agency, to pass in order to facilitate work combatting crime and terrorism. Currently, when companies like Facebook resist a law enforcement inquiry, the government backs off because they have no desire to go through a contempt proceeding, according to the Washington Post.

The newspaper gives the details of the proposed legislation: a court would begin by fining firms that don’t comply with wiretap orders--fines that could reach up to tens of thousands of dollars. If the firm still refuses, a court proceeding and more fines would commence. It’s already being criticized, though.

“This proposal is a non-starter that would drive innovators overseas and cost American jobs,” said Greg Nojeim of the Center for Democracy and Technology.

While some companies have the capability to monitor communications, many services on social media networks do not have to comply with law enforcement orders under current law. The legislation pushed by the FBI would allow them to monitor Internet phone calls that fall under the category of “peer to peer” communication.

 

Alex Kane is former World editor at AlterNet. His work has appeared in Mondoweiss, Salon, VICE, the Los Angeles Review of Books and more. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.