Spooks want more Web-tapping powers

Black helicopters on standby, please

US ISPs will be required to make high-speed networks wiretap-friendly, if regulators approve far-reaching plans to tighten up existing surveillance regimes.

The Justice Department, the FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration are calling on the Federal Communications Commission to tighten up telecoms regulations. They are fearful that criminals could evade wiretaps using the latest communication technologies such as Voice over IP.

Law enforcement agencies want the FCC to widen the scope of the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act - which requires telcos to deploy technology that supports lawful interception of communications - to the Internet and mobile data networks.

Service providers - not the government - would be asked to pick up the costs of any necessary modifications. The proposals allow ISPs to pass on these expenses to consumers.

New services that resisted police eavesdropping would be prohibited and suppliers would have just 15 months to build law enforcement backdoors into existing services.

Critics say the proposed regime will complicate Internet product development. There are also concerns about the scope of the proposals (as applied to data networks) and a perceived lack of safeguards against abuse.

Stewart Baker, a Washington-based lawyer and former general counsel at the National Security Agency, told AP that the proposal "seeks to erect a brand new and quite extensive regulatory program" that gives law enforcement and telecoms regulators an unprecented role in vetting the designs of new telecoms services. ®

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