The Federal Bureau of Investigation has renewed calls for interception powers under existing law to be enforced with penalties against providers such as Google and Facebook, should they fail to comply and break encryption.
As reported by the Washington Post, the FBI says it unable to eavesdrop on communications between criminals and terrorists over encrypted and peer to peer internet channels, as providers claim it is technically impossible to do so.
It now wants tech companies to implement interception capability to ensure that the agency has access to the data from the communications that it is legally entitled to listen in to under existing law.
Should companies fail to comply with the requests as they do today, they face severe penalties.
Penalties would start at tens of thousands of dollars and escalate upwards in a regime that applies across all providers, said Andrew Weissman, a top legal adviser for the FBI at a recent speech at the US National Press Club.
While the FBI and other agencies argue that they have a legal right to intercept communications, and have campaigned for greater ability to enforce this over the past years, the proposals are seen as risky by security experts.
Speaking to the WaPo, former Sun MIcrosystems engineer Susan Landau pointed out an earlier law from 1994 made phone networks vulnerable to unauthorised surveillance. Enabling silent wiretapping of internet communications channels would make the problem far worse, Landau told the WaPo.
The American proposals echo those put forward two weeks' ago by New Zealand minister of communications and information technology, Amy Adams, as part of a rewrite of the country's existing telecommunications interception legislation.
Should the proposed modernisation of the NZ Telecommunications Interception Act become law, providers which already have a legal duty to assist police and intelligence agences, may face penalties if they fail to crack strong encryption of communications while attempting to comply with eavesdropping requests.