The Campaign Spot

Election-driven news and views . . . by Jim Geraghty.

Government Wants Easier Online Wiretaps in Our Libertarian Moment


Top story in today’s Washington Post:

A government task force is preparing legislation that would pressure companies such as Face­book and Google to enable law enforcement officials to intercept online communications as they occur, according to current and former U.S. officials familiar with the effort. Driven by FBI concerns that it is unable to tap the Internet communications of terrorists and other criminals, the task force’s proposal would penalize companies that failed to heed wiretap orders — court authorizations for the government to intercept suspects’ communications.

According to the article, the FBI has the authority to pursue a contempt citation for a court order, but rarely chooses to do so.

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.

This debate may well echo the recent gun debate — first, asking whether government officials are effectively using and enforcing the existing laws and mechanisms, or whether this new proposal is driven by the desire to “do something” in the aftermath of a horrific event. Second, if the government has failed to use its existing powers and authorities effectively, why should it be given new authorities?

Was this the same FBI that didn’t keep an eye on Big Brother Bomber despite “at least four contacts with Russian spy services about Mr. Tsarnaev in the year before he took a six-month trip to Russia in 2012”? If they’re not effectively using the data they already have access to, why should they have greater authority to collect even more data?

Doesn’t this sound like filibuster fodder for Rand Paul?

Tags: FBI


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