White House Wants to Wiretap Internet Communications

The Obama administration is drawing up legislation to make it easier for US intelligence services to eavesdrop on the Internet, including email exchanges and social networks, The New York Times said Monday.

The White House intends to submit a bill before Congress next year that would require all online services that enable communications to be technically capable of complying with a wiretap order, including being able to intercept and unscramble encrypted messages, the Times reported.

The services would include encrypted email transmitters like BlackBerry, social networking websites like Facebook and peer-to-peer messaging software like Skype.

Federal law enforcement and national security officials are seeking the new regulations, arguing that extremists and criminals are increasingly communicating online rather than using phones.

"We're talking about lawfully authorized intercepts," said Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) general counsel Valerie Caproni.

"We're not talking expanding authority. We're talking about preserving our ability to execute our existing authority in order to protect the public safety and national security."

Officials from the White House, Justice Department, National Security Agency, FBI and other agencies have been meeting in recent months to craft the proposals, the Times said.

But, citing officials familiar with the discussions, it said the participants had not yet agreed on important elements, such as how to define which entities are considered communications service providers.

President Barack Obama's administration is seeking a broad mandate that would also apply to companies whose servers are operated abroad, such as Research in Motion, the Canadian maker of BlackBerry smartphones.

As an example, officials told the Times that investigators discovered that Faisal Shahzad, the suspect from the failed Times Square bombing in May, had been using a communication service without prebuilt interception capacity.

That meant that there would have been a delay before he could have been wiretapped, had he aroused suspicion beforehand, the officials said.

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