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U.S. seeks ways to wiretap the Internet

Federal law enforcement officials said that investigators generally know which companies can accommodate their requests and which cannot, and generally avoid the latter or work out an alternative, and that is not reflected in the statistics.

Industry lawyers said the administration must justify imposing the regulation by demonstrating why it is so difficult to obtain the data authorities are seeking.

Bankston also pointed out that a State Department spokesman last month critized the United Arab Emirates for threatening to block RIM's Blackberry service because it allowed users to send encrypted communications. "We think it sets a dangerous precedent," spokesman P.J. Crowley said. "You should be opening up societies to these new technologies that have the opportunity to empower people rather than looking to see how you can restrict certain technologies."

Bankston cited the impact on innovation. "Would Mark Zuckerberg have been able to build Facebook in his dorm room if he'd had to build in surveillance capabilities before launch in order to avoid fines for not being CALEA-compliant? Would Skype have ever happened if it was forced to include an artificial bottleneck for all of your peer-to-peer communications? "

Michael A. Sussmann, a former Justice Department lawyer who advises social networking and communications service providers, said that the proposal to expand CALEA "could be extremely difficult" from a technical point of view. "In some cases networks would need to be re-engineered," he said. "Where even possible, that can require a lot of time and huge costs."

Susan Landau, a Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study fellow and former Sun Microsystems engineer, said the proposal would make it easier for nation-state adversaries to hack into U.S. networks.

"It simplifies the process for them," she said. "The more secure you make a communication system the harder you make it for everyone to break in.''

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