LOS ANGELES (CBS) — Whether you like it or not, the federal government wants to be your friend on Facebook.
Officials with the Federal Bureau of Investigations have reportedly lobbied the world’s biggest social networking site along with other Internet giants like Google and Yahoo in an effort to convince them to install an electronic “back door” into their services for wiretapping.
Senior FBI officials have voiced concerns with the White House, the U.S. Senate and industry representatives that the shift from telephone communications to the Internet has hampered agents’ efforts to wiretap Americans suspected of illegal activities, according to CNET.com.
The feds have reportedly drafted a proposal that would amend a 1994 law which would require social networking sites and providers of Web-based services such as email, instant messaging, and VoIP to alter their codes to allow access to law enforcement and other federal agencies.
As of now, only telecommunications providers are required to make their systems wiretap-friendly under the the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, or CALEA, which applies to broadband providers but does not extend to Internet companies.
Hemu Nigham, a cyber security expert and founder of SSP Blue, told KNX 1070 NEWSRADIO that so far, most media companies are reluctant to hand over such expansive access to the government.
“If you really think about it, this is the intersection where privacy meets safety,” said Nigham. “From a privacy perspective, companies like Apple and Facebook and others are doing a great job saying, ‘Wait a minute, before you find out anything about my user, we gotta talk.”
Nigham also pointed out that the government has a seemingly justifiable interest in safeguarding users online from real-world criminal activity.
“The government is saying, ‘Look, we have a job to protect the safety of the people in our community, and we actually demand it, for murderers, terrorists, child abusers, and they’re moving to new technologies’,” he added.
The FBI has argued that expanding CALEA to apply to Internet firms would not be an expansion of wiretapping law, as a court order would still legally be required.
But the public’s appetite for additional and potentially more invasive wiretap legislation may be waning in the wake of protests over the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) data-sharing bill in April and even more contentious debate over the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) back in January.