The Obama administration is drafting new regulations that would make it easier for the US government to spy on Internet communications, the New York Times reported on Monday.
The Times reported that the White House is preparing a bill that would require online communications services to be “technically capable of complying” with a wiretap order. The bill would cover all communications services, even those like Blackberry which are based outside of the United States.
The new regulations that would be sent to congress next year would affect American and foreign companies that provide communications services inside the US.
James Dempsey, the vice president of the Washington-based Centre for Democracy and Technology, told the newspaper the proposal would have “huge implications” for online communications.
US officials said the new regulations would be necessary to keep up with changing communications technology.
The government already has the power to intercept data transmitted over telephone and broadband networks, if a judge issues a wiretap order. But if that data is encrypted – like calls made over Skype, for example – it is useless to investigators.
The proposed legislation would require service providers, like Skype, Blackberry and Facebook, to decrypt data in response to a wiretap order. Providers who fail to comply could face fines or other penalties.
The American concerns are similar to those from governments in the United Arab Emirates and India, both of which threatened to block Blackberry service unless its operator gave them access to data sent over its networks.
The proposal is likely to be controversial for a number of reasons. It would create “back doors” in services that could be exploited by hackers, and it would create a serious burden for software companies, particularly startups or small firms.