The FBI is planning to revise wiretapping laws to include online communications, The New York Times reports.
The move comes as increasing numbers of Americans are turning away from the telephone to use chat, text, email and other forms of electronic communications and as Americans debate larger questions about surveillance in the digital age.
The FBI currently is authorized to access phone correspondence by the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, which requires phone companies to allow the government (with a court order) to directly intercept any communication. Some have suggested that this means that there is a database of recordings of all phone calls being stored by the government.
Tech companies, on the other hand, are not required to give the government direct access to communications. Currently, authorities must ask companies like Google and Facebook for access to conversations. If there is a court order issued to the company within 180 days of the correspondence, emails can be found and read. If the 180 day mark has passed, the government is out of luck.
This latest move has riled the tech industry, which says it would force companies to innovate outside the U.S.. Others are saying that closely monitoring web communications is undemocratic. One lawyer from the tech industry told the Times, “We’ll look a lot more like China than America after this."