It isn’t often that communications companies push back against government requests to monitor customers and hand over information about them, but a government task force is seeking to make it even harder for companies to say no.

The task force is pushing for legislation that would penalize companies like Google, Facebook and Skype that fail to comply with court orders for wiretapping, according to the Washington Post. The cost of non-complying would be an escalating series of fines, starting at tens of thousands of dollars. Fines that remained unpaid after 90 days would double daily.

Unlike telecommunications companies that are required under the 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) to have systems that are wiretap-enabled, some internet communication methods — such as social networking sites and online gaming sites — aren’t easily wiretapped and are not required to enable the capability under CALEA. Companies that argue that they don’t have the means to enable wiretapping have avoided complying with court orders seeking real-time surveillance, the paper notes. The legislation is intended to force these companies into finding technology solutions that would enable real-time surveillance.

Microsoft reportedly applied for a patent in 2009 for a technology called Legal Intercept that would have the ability to secretly monitor, intercept and record Skype calls. Microsoft filed for the patent before it bought Skype in 2011.

The push for legislation to compel these companies to cooperate with wiretapping orders began in 2010 after Google initiated end-to-end encryption for Gmail and text messages, which made it more difficult for the FBI to intercept e-mail under a court order, the Post notes.

But critics like Matt Blaze, professor of computer science at the University of Pennsylvania, have argued that the intercept capabilities introduce vulnerabilities (.pdf) that make it possible for foreign intelligence agencies and others to hijack the surveillance systems on communication networks and do their own spying.

The move to wiretap the internet isn’t new. The New York Times reported in 2010 that federal officials were seeking new regulations to wiretap the internet.

The piece noted that officials wanted legislation that would require all communications providers — including encrypted e-mail providers, like Google, social networking sites like Facebook, and messaging and voice services like Skype — to install the technical capability for wiretapping. Officials wanted these services to provide the ability not only to intercept and record communications but to and decrypt encrypted communications.

Officials argue that they’re not seeking new powers; they just want to extend the monitoring authority they currently have for telecommunications to other communication methods on the internet.

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