FBI: Wiretap law wouldn’t affect most California startups

A modified Federal Bureau of Investigation proposal would expand legal wiretapping capabilities without crippling small, new technology companies. That’s an Internet law pitch that skeptics in and out of California tech companies find hard to believe.

The FBI director complains current communication and Internet laws defining the agency’s surveillance reach are seriously outdated. The government official says the FBI risks “going dark” without open access to criminal suspects’ online activities.

The latest FBI plan is an altered version of a 2010 measure that would have mandated wiretap-friendly systems at Internet companies, large and small. The first proposal was designed to supplement a 1994 act requiring network carriers and phone companies to install eavesdropping systems the government could use.

Critics said startups would be discouraged and overburdened by the plan, so the FBI came up with a new one. The latest bureau idea focuses on noncompliance fines for powerhouse tech companies like Google that fail to cooperate.

Federal law enforcers say they have no intention of listening in on conversations of anyone but suspected wrongdoers. Any wiretapping would be done by court order. The plan would fine companies, including foreign-based businesses with U.S. customers, up to $25,000 per day for failing to cooperate.

The costs for surveillance systems and potential daily fines are frightening expenses for vulnerable, cash-poor startups. The FBI dismissed worries by claiming that wiretapping rarely would be necessary at the small business level.

Opponents feel the second proposal is no better than the first. Detractors warn that hackers would swarm and innovators would bolt overseas if the plan were to be effected. The Obama administration is considering but not commenting on the proposal.

To survive, communicate and thrive, most California businesses require a strong presence on the Internet. The FBI wants online access to do its job. An attorney can explain how the proposal would impact the security of a company’s intellectual property.

Source:  nytimes.com, “U.S. Weighs Wide Overhaul of Wiretap Laws” Charlie Savage, May. 07, 2013