A government task force is preparing legislation that would pressure companies such as Facebook and Google to enable law enforcement officials to intercept online communications as they occur, according to current and former U.S. officials familiar with the effort.
Driven by FBI concerns that it is unable to tap the Internet communications of terrorists and other criminals, the task force’s proposal would penalize companies that failed to heed wiretap orders — court authorizations for the government to intercept suspects’ communications.
Rather than antagonizing companies whose cooperation they need, federal officials typically back off when a company is resistant, industry and former officials said. But law enforcement officials say the cloak drawn on suspects’ online activities — what the FBI calls the “going dark” problem — means that critical evidence can be missed.
“The importance to us is pretty clear,” Andrew Weissmann, the FBI’s general counsel, said last month at an American Bar Association discussion on legal challenges posed by new technologies. “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.”