Government preparing to fine tech firms that don't comply with wiretaps

A DOJ task force’s proposal would penalize companies like Google or Facebook and pique privacy concerns

By Natasha Lennard

Published April 30, 2013 6:12PM (EDT)


The government has for many years sought the means, through tech giants like Google and Facebook, to wiretap communications with the use of built-in backdoors. According to the Washington Post, a Justice Department task force, prompted by FBI efforts, is preparing legislation that would pressure companies such as Face­book and Google to comply with law enforcement wiretaps. Via WaPo:

There is currently no way to wiretap some of these communications methods easily, and companies effectively have been able to avoid complying with court orders. While the companies argue that they have no means to facilitate the wiretap, the government, in turn, has no desire to enter into what could be a drawn-out contempt proceeding.

Under the draft proposal, a court could levy a series of escalating fines, starting at tens of thousands of dollars, on firms that fail to comply with wiretap orders, according to persons who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. A company that does not comply with an order within a certain period would face an automatic judicial inquiry, which could lead to fines. After 90 days, fines that remain unpaid would double daily.

... The proposal, however, is likely to encounter resistance, said industry officials and privacy advocates.

Mike Masnick at TechDirt expressed such anticipated privacy concerns:

This would be a disaster for innovative companies and for public security and privacy as well. The DOJ really needs to learn that not everything must be tappable. As it stands now, if I just sit on a park bench talking to someone, the DOJ can't tap it. Sometimes law enforcement doesn't get the right to hear everything I have to say. That's the nature of freedom and privacy protection that we're supposed to believe in.

As Masnick noted, "this is a really silly proposal, that won't make us any safer. Instead, it's likely to make us a lot less secure, because those backdoors will be abused, not just by law enforcement, but by those with malicious intent who will work hard to find the backdoors and make use of them."

Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email

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Doj Fbi Internet Justice Department Privacy Wiretap