On Monday, the New York Times reported that the United States was seeking to expand its Internet surveillance powers through wiretapping. “Essentially, officials want Congress to require all services that enable communications — including encrypted e-mail transmitters like BlackBerry, social networking Web sites like Facebook and software that allows direct ‘peer to peer’ messaging like Skype — to be technically capable of complying if served with a wiretap order.”
Now, the Times reports that the proposal for broad changes were met with silence from some companies that would be key players — Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo and Research in Motion:
Next year, the Obama administration intends to ask Congress for new regulations that it says are necessary as more people – and criminals – communicate online rather than the telephone. The rules would require Internet companies to create an easy way for law enforcement and security officials to monitor encrypted e-mails and messaging services like Skype, which allow users to talk “peer to peer.”
The government would still need to get legal approval to intercept and decode messages.
Privacy advocates criticize the plan as a threat to free speech and open to abuse. However, major technology companies, which vociferously defend their privacy records, today declined to weigh in on the proposal – never mind that it could affect their users and require some technical gymnastics to implement.
Only Facebook would comment, if only generally, saying in a statement: “We will examine any proposal when and if it materializes but we can’t comment on something we haven’t seen. Generally, it’s our policy to only comply with valid, legal requests for data.” […]
Lee Tien, senior staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a privacy advocacy group, said that there are “obvious civil liberty and privacy issues” with the Obama administration plan. Existing law already allows law enforcement to get user information from Internet companies, although it may not get it as quickly as they want.