We’ve talked a lot about how the Justice Department (DOJ), mainly via the FBI, has been pushing for years to change the laws in order to require tech companies to build wiretapping backdoors into any and every form of communication online. As we’ve explained over and over again, this is a really silly proposal, that won’t make us any safer. Instead, it’s likely to make us a lot less secure, because those backdoors will be abused, not just by law enforcement, but by those with malicious intent who will work hard to find the backdoors and make use of them.
The latest proposal on this front is equally ridiculous. While it wouldn’t dictate specific wiretapping/backdoor standards, it would require that companies make some sort of backdoor available or face rapidly escalating fines.
Under the draft proposal, a court could levy a series of escalating fines, starting at tens of thousands of dollars, on firms that fail to comply with wiretap orders, according to persons who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. A company that does not comply with an order within a certain period would face an automatic judicial inquiry, which could lead to fines. After 90 days, fines that remain unpaid would double daily.
This would be a disaster for innovative companies and for public security and privacy as well. The DOJ really needs to learn that not everything must be tappable. As it stands now, if I just sit on a park bench talking to someone, the DOJ can’t tap it. Sometimes law enforcement doesn’t get the right to hear everything I have to say. That’s the nature of freedom and privacy protection that we’re supposed to believe in. I’m sure with the news that chat apps are now more popular than SMS worldwide, law enforcement folks think that they need to “do something” to make sure they can spy on those conversations, but that’s not true. Yes, it may make their job harder at times, but in a free country, the focus should be on protecting the freedom of the people, not decimating it to make the job of law enforcement easier. Those who commit crimes leave other clues beyond their communications online. Tapping such communications will lead to a massive security risk and huge expense for many innovative companies (likely slowing down the pace of innovation in that space). Is that worth it just so the DOJ can spy on what you have to say? That seems doubtful.