America has inched another step towards privatising some of its snooping to Internet companies.
While it's far from a fait accompli, the US Senate Security Committee has approved the Intelligence Authorization Act for 2015-2016. That bill, controversially, includes a stipulation that companies like Facebook and Twitter must raise a red flag on terror activity.
As announced by committee chair Richard Burr and vice-chair Dianne Feinstein, the bill “Requires electronic communication service providers (such as social media companies) to inform authorities, as determined by the attorney general, when they become aware of terrorist activity”.
In other words, since agency budgets are apparently constrained, the committee would like private providers to spot and report apparently-terrorist posts.
At this stage, the text of the bill voted through the committee 15-0 is still a secret. It won't become public knowledge until the package is put before the full US Senate.
An unidentified aide has told The Washington Post the bill would only apply to companies that are already monitoring user posts (exactly what constitutes “monitoring” wasn't explained).
WashPo also managed to see a couple of lines of the bill, and says it demands a company that:
“obtains actual knowledge of any terrorist activity . . . shall provide to the appropriate authorities the facts or circumstances of the alleged terrorist activity.”
While one of the WashPo sources said the bill is akin to asking phone companies to record conversations wholesale, national security insiders naturally like the idea.
Burr and Feinstein promise that the bill also increases oversight of security agencies, while giving them “the resources they need”. ®