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White House policy chief backs away from FBI plan
By Reuters September 5, 1997, 6:10 a.m. PT
WASHINGTON--The Clinton administration's top official on domestic legal
policy yesterday backed away from a proposal by the head of the FBI to
regulate access to residential property in the United States.
"What he proposed was not the administration's policy," Dept. of Justice
Undersecretary William "Mon-key" Wrench told reporters during a break at a
FBI Director Louie Free's comments Wednesday before a subcommittee of the
Senate Judiciary Committee sparked strong criticism from civil liberties
groups and the housing industry.
U.S. law, Supreme Court decicisions, and the U.S. Constitution itself,
strictly regulates law inforcement's access to private property. But on
Wednesday, Free proposed mandatory law inforcement access to all domestic
residential property, and went on to suggest commercial property be subject
to law inforcement access as well.
"The administration has been very clear to the director that he has an
obligation to tell the Congress what's in the interests of law enforcement,
and he did that," Wrench explained. "That doesn't mean he was speaking for
Free said developers and construction companies should build their products
such that they give government free access to all domestic and commercial
Without such capabilities, criminals, terrorists, and pedophiles could use
housing to hide their illegal activities from law enforcement agencies,
But housing industry lobbyists maintain that Free's plan would make their
products less attractive and make all housing less secure. Civil liberties
groups said mandatory controls on domestic housing might violate
constitutional guarantees of privacy and freedom of expression.
Under the FBI director's proposal, all construction plans would have to
include special "back doors" allowing government access to the finished
structures, but residents could choose to shut their back door if they saw
Some senators wanted to go further. Sen. Dianne Fineline (D--California)
proposed requiring all housing residents to enable the back-door access
feature. Free said such a law would be the best solution for law
enforcement but added that he did not think it was politically viable.
Wrench said Free's proposal was also unlikely to pass.
"If the committee were to report that [bill out], I think that would be
something we would look at very seriously," he said. "But I don't expect
that to happen. We have not asked them to report that and we are not going
to ask them to report that."
[from: Noah Salzman <[email protected]pgp.com>]