Government officials have announced plans for a new law regulating online wiretaps, specifically targeting email communications. This means that law enforcement, with a legitimate search warrant, will be able to legally monitor and obtain email messages and other types of electronic communication. Once the new law takes effect, those under investigation for anything from sex crimes to drug possession will have every reason to suspect that law enforcement is reading their email.
Law enforcement departments claim that communication services like Facebook, Skype, and Blackberry email use encryption technology that prevents the government from intercepting messages.
The new regulations, due to reach Congress this year, will require service providers to make any necessary changes to their programs and software so that they are technically capable of complying with government wiretaps.
As is, some programs take months to unscramble encrypted messages, delaying law enforcement agencies from acting on suspected acts of terrorism and other crimes. Valerie E. Caproni, general counsel for the FBI, explains, “…telecommunications law has not kept up…[and] has created a significant national security and public safety problem.”
In the past few months, officials from the FBI, Justice Department, National Security Agency and the Obama Administration have held meetings to discuss the proposed regulations. The law will be written in “technologically neutral” language to prevent the regulations from becoming obsolete with any future technological advances or inventions. The regulations will encourage each company to come up with their own plans on how to meet the requirements.
The regulations will require encrypted communication service providers to be able to decipher their customer’s messages if needed. Foreign companies with U.S. customers must have a U.S. office set up to work with law enforcement agencies on wiretaps. Companies that provide software for peer-to-peer communications will be required to redesign their software to allow for government interception.
Though the law itself applies to service providers, users of online communication services will be affected by the proposed changes. Emails and messages that are encrypted and are now private will be subject to law enforcement wiretaps just like your home telephone.