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FBI brass ask Google, Facebook to expand wiretaps

Mr. Mueller goes to Silicon Valley

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Top officials from the FBI traveled to Silicon Valley on Tuesday to persuade Facebook and Google executives to support a proposal that would make it easier for law enforcement to wiretap the companies' users.

FBI Director Robert Mueller III and General Counsel Valerie Caproni were scheduled to meet with “managers of several major companies” including Facebook and Google, according to The New York Times. It wasn't clear how the companies responded.

The proposal first came to light in September, when the FBI warned that much of its information-gathering ability was under threat by the move to VoIP and other encrypted communications. Legislation under consideration would require cellphone carriers, websites, and other types of service providers to have a way to unscramble encrypted communications traveling over their networks, according to the NYT.

The Communications Assistance to Law Enforcement Act requires phone and broadband providers to have the means to make sure they can immediately comply with court wiretap orders. The FBI wants to extend that requirement to communication service providers, including those that offer strong end-to-end encryption services that make it infeasible to intercept and read traffic as it travels over their networks. The proposed legislation mentions Skype and Research in Motion by name.

Under the proposal, developers of email, instant-messaging and voice-over-internet-protocol applications would be forced to redesign their services so their contents can be intercepted by law enforcement agents. The Commerce Department and State Department have questioned whether such a requirement would stifle innovation and put US companies at a disadvantage. They have also have concerns that the capabilities could be abused by rogue regimes to spy on US citizens.

A Google official declined to comment to the NYT, while a Facebook spokesman said it would be premature for executives of the social network to take a position. ®

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