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Clinton Administration Plans 1.5 MILLION WIRETAPS
Used with Permission
From THE SPOTLIGHT
300 Independence Avenue, S.E.
Washington, DC 20003
Subscriptions: (202) 546-5621
Technology & Liberty
November 13, 1995
ADMINISTRATION PLANS 1.5 MILLION TELEPHONE INTERCEPTS
By Clark Matthews
Janet Reno's Justice Department and the FBI have directed U.S.
telephone companies to prepare for up to 1.5 million
simultaneous, electronic intercepts on Americans' telephones.
The same directive requires the nation's phone companies to
complete the necessary modifications to their equipment to create
this massive surveillance apparatus from America's public
telephone networks. Telephone companies are directed to have
these capabilities in place by October 28, 1998, one week before
the 1998 elections.
The Clinton administration's claimed authorization for this
massive high-tech domestic surveillance machine is the 1994
Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA). The
CALEA law is better known as infamous "Wiretap Access Bill",
which has been discussed many times in these columns over the
past 14 months. The CALEA law continues to be a hot topic
because the proposed "Omnibus Counter-Terrorism Bill" of 1995
(H.R. 1710) contains provisions for setting up a national FBI
surveillance center and paying for the national eavesdropping
system with a 40% surcharge on all federal civil fines and
The administration's eavesdropping diktats are buried in a set of
technical "capacity requirements" that telephone companies are
expected to meet in order to comply with the CALEA law. The
capacity requirements appear on pages 53643-53646 of the Federal
Register for October 16, 1995. Computer users can access this
document electronically on the internet from the Electronic
Privacy Information Center (http://www.epic.org) or by using wais
The "Capacity Requirements" published in the Federal Register
correspond to a minimum of 540,000 and a maximum of 1.5 million
simultaneous telephone "intercepts" in the United States. These
electronic "intercepts" involve several different telephone
surveillance techniques. They can record the telephone numbers
you call and the numbers of people who call you, and then match
the phone numbers in a special database "associating" you with
your friends, relatives, acquaintances, journalists, activists,
or businesses. They can also be programmed to monitor telephone
conversations, intercept faxes, and record communications
sessions between computer modems, including computer passwords
and digital transactions.
Here is a breakdown of the scope of the federal surveillance
described by the capacity requirements:
* Category 3 -- In 75% of the nation, phone companies must be
prepared to activate federal intercepts on a maximum of
0.25% of all telephone subscribers, i.e. 250 telephones out
of every 100,000.
* Category 2 -- Is ill-defined. Phone companies in Category 2
areas must make their equipment capable of supporting
federal interceptions on a maximum of 0.5% of all
subscribers, i.e. 500 telephones per 100,000
* Category 1 -- Includes ill-defined "high interest" areas
like major cities, where phone companies must be prepared to
surveil 1% of all telephones, i.e. 1,000 phones per 100,000
WHAT THE NUMBERS MEAN
According to FCC statistics for 1993, there were at least 150
million telephone numbers in our country -- and these figures
omitted cellular phones, beepers, pagers, WATS lines, and other
non-switched telephone services. Therefore Category 3 translates
into 0.25% of at least 112.5 million telephones -- 281,250
intercepts nationwide. Assuming Category 2 equals 15% of the
nation's phones, it translates into 0.5% of 22.5 million phones,
another 122,500 potential wiretaps. Category 1 is 1% of the
remaining 15 million phones: that's 150,000 more people. Add it
up: 553,750 intercepts, minimum.
And since "major cities" are "high interest" areas, the actual
number is more likely to approach one million or more. Even
these figures don't tell the whole story. The Justice Department
directives have a built-in vagueness that allows areas to be re-
defined. They can become "high-interest" hotspots at any time,
under any circumstances. A currency crisis, for instance. Or a
hotly contested election. Or perhaps a mysterious bombing
provocation in the midwest.
Furthermore, telephone companies do not have the luxury of
meeting the minimum surveillance requirements. It's a
technological reality that they must modify their equipment to
meet the maximum requirements. That's because the FBI can re-
define their surveillance responsibilities at any time, by
branding their customers as "interesting".
As the FBI's "interest" shifts from area to area, the whole
country could rapidly come under the 1% surveillance directive.
1.5 million telephone intercepts. Or more.
'ONLY 1,157 WIRETAPS'
The conduct of Clinton's law-enforcement leaders is especially
outrageous, now that the true intentions of their KGB-like
program have been revealed. When FBI Director Louis Freeh
lobbied Congress for the Wiretap Bill last year, he cited FBI
statistics claiming only 1,157 federal, state, and local
electronic surveillance orders for all of 1993.
In sworn Congressional testimony, the FBI director went on to say
that his bureau had been thwarted in "several" attempts to
intercept communications on specialized telephone equipment.
Freeh cited obstacles like digital switches, digital loops, and
similar privately owned, computerized business telephone
switching systems, which he claimed prevented his agents from
listening to telephone conversations, intercepting faxes, and
capturing the data exchanged in computer modem sessions.
The built-in interception capacity of at least 1.5 million phone
subscribers is well over 1,000 times the 1993 wiretapping number
given to Congress by Director Freeh.
WRITE YOUR REPRESENTATIVES
The Justice Department instructed America's telephone companies
to respond by November 15th in writing (in triplicate) with
comments on their new national telephone surveillance
requirements. Why not ask your elected representatives to drop
them a line, too? Your Senators and Representative may well
wonder how Louis Freeh's 1,157 1993 surveillance orders and
"several" failed eavesdropping attempts turned into a license to
monitor over a million phones in the nation's telephone system in
less than two years. I sure do wonder.
The "capacity requirements" for the 1994 Wiretap Law (CALEA) were
published in the Federal Register of October 16. They are listed
on pages 53643-53646. The address for comments is:
Telecommunications Industry Liaison Unit (TILU), Federal Bureau
of Investigation, P.O. Box 220450, Chantilly, VA 22022-0450. The
FBI expects your representatives to write in triplicate.
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