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EPIC Statement on FBI Wiretap Bill

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           EPIC Statement on Digital Telephony Wiretap Bill 

     The digital telephony bill recently introduced in Congress is the
culmination of a process that began more than two years ago, when the
Federal Bureau of Investigation first sought legislation to ensure its
ability to conduct electronic surveillance through mandated design
changes in the nation's information infrastructure.  We have monitored
that process closely and have scrutinized the FBI's claims that
remedial legislation is necessary.  We have sponsored conferences at
which the need for legislation was debated with the participation of
the law enforcement community, the telecommunications industry and
privacy advocates.  We have sought the disclosure of all relevant
information through a series of requests under the Freedom of
Information Act.  Having thus examined the issue, EPIC remains
unconvinced of the necessity or advisability of the pending bill.

     As a threshold matter, we do not believe that a compelling case
has been made that new communications technologies hamper the ability
of law enforcement agencies to execute court orders for electronic
surveillance. For more than two years, we have sought the public
disclosure of any FBI records that might document such a problem.  To
date, no such documentation has been released.  Without public scrutiny
of factual information on the nature and extent of the alleged
technological impediments to surveillance, the FBI's claims remain
anecdotal and speculative.  Indeed, the telecommunications industry
has consistently maintained that it is unaware of any instances in
which a communications carrier has been unable to comply with law
enforcement's requirements.  Under these circumstances, the nation
should not embark upon a costly and potentially dangerous re-design of
its telecommunications network solely to protect the viability of fewer
than 1000 annual surveillances against wholly speculative impediments.

     We also believe that the proposed legislation would establish a
dangerous precedent for the future.  While the FBI claims that the
legislation would not enhance its surveillance powers beyond those
contained in existing law, the pending bill represents a fundamental
change in the law's approach to electronic surveillance and police
powers generally.  The legislation would, for the first time, mandate
that our means of communications must be designed to facilitate
government interception.  While we as a society have always recognized
law enforcement's need to obtain investigative information upon
presentation of a judicial warrant, we have never accepted the notion
that the success of such a search must be guaranteed.  By mandating the
success of police searches through the re-design of the telephone
network, the proposed legislation breaks troubling new ground.  The
principle underlying the bill could easily be applied to all emerging
information technologies and be incorporated into the design of the
National Information Infrastructure.  It could also lead to the
prohibition of encryption techniques other than government-designed
"key escrow" or "Clipper" type systems.

     In short, EPIC believes that the proposed digital telephony bill
raises substantial civil liberties and privacy concerns.  The present
need for the legislation has not been established and its future
implications are frightening.  We therefore call upon all concerned
individuals and organizations to express their views on the legislation
to their Congressional representatives.  We also urge you to contact
Rep. Jack Brooks, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, to share
your opinions:

     Rep. Jack Brooks
     Chair, House Judiciary Committee
     2138 Rayburn House Office Bldg.
     Washington, DC 20515
     (202) 225-3951 (voice)
     (202) 225-1958 (fax)

The bill number is H.R. 4922 in the House and S. 2375 in the Senate.  It can 
be referred to as the "FBI Wiretap Bill" in correspondence.

Electronic Privacy Information Center 
666 Pennsylvania Avenue, S.E. 
Suite 301 Washington, DC 20003 
(202) 544-9240 (voice) 
(202) 547-5482 (fax) 
<[email protected]>

EPIC is a project of the Fund for Constitutional Government and Computer 
Professionals for Social Responsibility.