The FBI’s "top priority" in 2013 is to modernize surveillance law so authorities can monitor in real time the Web activities of Americans suspected of committing crimes, the FBI’s general counsel said.
At a luncheon for the American Bar Association in Washington last week, Andrew Weissman said that a 1994 federal law designed to help law enforcement conduct lawful surveillance was not keeping up with modern forms of communication.
The law, known as the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, or CALEA, applies to telecommunications companies, but does not fully apply to Web-based companies. Weissman said this distinction has prevented law enforcement from conducting surveillance on Web-based services such as Google’s Gmail service, Google Voice or the file-sharing service DropBox. He referred to law enforcement’s inability to monitor such communications as "going dark" and said it was preventing the FBI from fighting crime.
"We're making the ability to intercept communications with a court order increasingly obsolete," he said. "Those communications are being used for criminal conversations."
He added: “This huge legal apparatus…to prevent crimes, prevent terrorist acts is becoming increasingly hampered and increasingly marginalized the more we have technology that is not covered by CALEA, because we don’t have the ability to just go to the court and say 'You know what, they just have to do it.'"
Weissman said it was the FBI’s “top priority this year” to create a proposal that modernizes the law to allow law enforcement to obtain such data with a court order. His comments were also reported by Slate and other outlets.
Last year, CNET reported that the FBI had drafted a proposed law that would require Internet companies to ensure that social networks, instant messaging services and email providers “are wiretap-friendly.” CNET noted that such an expansion was "unlikely to be applauded by privacy groups or tech companies."