Does the FBI Need to Wiretap Websites to do an Effective Job?

America’s Federal Bureau of Investigation, the crime- busting branch of the federal government, wants to extend its wiretapping authority to the world wide web in an effort to more effectively control crime and prosecute suspects. The FBI claims that the proposed changes are a necessary modification to existing laws and they will help the FBI zero- in on criminal activity by harnessing the World Wide Web and secretly watching online activity.

What is This Proposed Change All About?

Back in 1994, Congress passed the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act. It was a sweeping and controversial law when it passed because it allowed wiretapping on a telecommunications level and required telecom businesses to cooperate fully by modifying their electronic devices, equipment, and services to make them immediately compatible for surveillance.  This law has been in place now for almost two decades and supporters say that it has helped organizations such as the FBI and others in their efforts to track criminals and gather evidence.

Now, the FBI wants to extend the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act to the internet and its proposal is based on the simple fact that the internet is a form of communication and therefore should be subject to the same rules and regulations as the telecommunications industries. The FBI wants to be able to access everything from Yahoo to Facebook and beyond and subject these online businesses to the same requirements as the telecom industry.

What is at Stake?

The FBI claims it only wants to protect the public and that the added ability to track potential criminals online would provide another weapon in its arsenal. Critics of the plan say it is another step toward a government- controlled state and a blantant infringement on privacy rights. If we allow government agencies like the FBI to tap our Facebook account and our instant message conversations, what step will they take next? Surveillance cameras aimed at the front windows of our homes? Listening devices placed on our doorstep? These things might seem a little far- fetched, but there was a time when the thought of government officials wiretapping our phones was dismissed as a “never in America” idea. Today, it is a reality that some have already forgotten.

Aside from the privacy matters, there is also the issue of practicality. Would forcing internet businesses to allow back- door surveillance really help law enforcement agencies like the FBI, or would citizens simply find a way to get around them? With so many tech- savvy individuals in abundant supply, wouldn’t it be a matter of time before someone comes up with a means to block the surveillance? What would the FBI resort to then? Would they look for a way to criminalize this activity as well? It seems like an endless loop that would never completely close.

The FBI certainly needs all the help it can get to track down criminals and serve justice when necessary. However, the thought of having my Facebook account tapped and my Skype messages intercepted is a little too Orwellian for me.  There has to be some semblance of privacy in some realm of life and hopefully the American public and internet companies will realize this and work to prevent the FBI’s proposed changes.


Guest post by Bryan Carey, Houston Finance Examiner