The United States authorities plan to bring in new sweeping regulations to monitor the Internet and all facilities that enables communication, months after India and Dubai asked RIM, the Canada-based makers of BlackBerry, to allow surveillance of encrypted services.
Federal law enforcement and national security officials argue that their ability to wiretap criminal and terrorism suspects is "going dark" as people increasingly communicate online instead of telephone.
Officials want Congress to require all services that enable communications including encrypted e-mail transmitters like BlackBerry, social networking Web sites like Facebook and software that allows direct "peer to peer" messaging like Skype to be technically capable of complying if served with a wiretap order.
The bill, which the Obama administration plans to submit to lawmakers next year, raises fresh questions about how to balance security needs with protecting privacy and fostering innovation, The New York Times reported.
The proposal has "huge implications" and challenged "fundamental elements of the Internet revolution", including its decentralised design, James X Dempsey, vice president of the Center for Democracy and Technology, an Internet policy group, said.
"They are really asking for the authority to redesign services that take advantage of the unique, and now pervasive, architecture of the Internet," he said.
"They basically want to turn back the clock and make Internet services function the way that the telephone system used to function."
But law enforcement officials contend that imposing such a mandate is reasonable and necessary to prevent the erosion of their investigative powers. Officials from FBI and Justice department want to the new regulations broadly, including to companies that operate from servers abroad, like Research in Motion, the Canadian maker of BlackBerry devices.
In recent months, that company has come into conflict with the governments of Dubai and India over their inability to conduct surveillance of messages sent via its encrypted service.
In the United States, phone and broadband networks are already required to have interception capabilities, under a 1994 law called the Communications Assistance to Law Enforcement Act.
Often, investigators can intercept communications at a switch operated by the network company.
But sometimes like when the target uses a service that encrypts messages between his computer and its servers they must instead serve the order on a service provider to get unscrambled versions. Moreover, some services encrypt messages between users, so that even the provider cannot unscramble them.