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IP: ISPI Clips 5.32: FBI & Privacy Advocates Battling Over Wiretapping
From: "ama-gi ISPI" <[email protected]>
Subject: IP: ISPI Clips 5.32: FBI & Privacy Advocates Battling Over Wiretapping
Date: Mon, 12 Oct 1998 00:10:29 -0700
To: <[email protected]>
ISPI Clips 5.32: FBI & Privacy Advocates Battling Over Wiretapping
News & Info from the Institute for the Study of Privacy Issues (ISPI)
Monday October 12, 1998
This From: ABCNews.com, October 8, 1998
Privacy on the Line
Law enforcement and privacy advocates are battling over wiretapping
boundaries in the digital age.
The FBI wants to be able to tap your cell phone. And it wants your phone
company to pay for the privilege of allowing the FBI to tap your cell
That, at least, is the contention of privacy advocates and of the
telephone industry, which is under federal mandate to open all new
telecommunications technologies to wiretap access. Under the Communications
Assistance to Law Enforcement Act, telecommunications companies are
required provide wiretap capabilities for all of their new systems. Passed
by Congress in 1994, CALEA mandated that telecommunications companies
comply with access requirements by Oct. 25 of this year. That deadline,
however, has been pushed back until June 2000 by the Federal Communications
Commission as it tries to sort out just what the FBI is entitled to, and
how much reimbursement telecom companies should get.
Originally, CALEA set aside $500 million to pay for infrastructure
upgrades on systems installed prior to Jan. 1, 1995. The United States
Telephone Association and other industry groups want that cutoff point
extended until 2000 as well, so that current systems are covered.
Voice Mail for Dope Dealers?
The telecommunications industry has introduced a wide range of popular —
and profitable — services in recent years, everything from prepaid calling
cards to Internet telephony to three-way calling. Cellular phones have
become nearly ubiquitous, and newer models are almost entirely digital.
Many customers have turned to third party voice-mail systems for message
services. When most of these systems were designed and implemented, no
thought was given to allowing federal or local law enforcement agencies
The FBI says it’s entitled to access these services under current
wiretap laws. Privacy advocates disagree.
“The FBI has been trying to use CALEA to greatly expand its
surveillance capabilities in ways never anticipated by Congress when it
passed the law,” contends Barry Steinhardt, executive director of the
Electronic Frontier Foundation.
The telephone companies also disagree, at least in principle. More
important, if forced by the government to comply, they want the federal
government to pay for the technology necessary to make it happen.
The FBI claims that a compromise proposal by the USTA, which
represents local telephone companies, was too narrow, and excluded many of
the technological advances that have made law enforcement’s job more
“There have been situations in which we’ve obtained permission to
wiretap, and we’ve been frustrated by the technology,” says Stephen
Colgate, assistant U.S. attorney general for administration. “And the
criminals know it. Things like voice mail and prepaid calling cards, these
are the things used by the dope dealer or the bomb maker.”
The Communications Haystack
The USTA, however, says the FBI is overreaching by including services not
covered by the original law.
“The rules the FBI put forth in CALEA don’t follow the intent of
Congress,” says Michelle Tober, communications manager for the USTA. “If
the FBI wants this capability, it has to be granted to them by the FCC or
under a new law by Congress.”
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, along with the American Civil
Liberties Union and the Electronic Privacy Information Center, have
petitioned the FCC to limit law enforcement’s ability to gain access to new
“The problem with a wiretap is that it’s a general search,” Steinhardt
says. “Only one in six conversations that are recorded are criminal in
nature. Increasing law enforcement’s powers will mean more conversations
recorded that have no bearing on investigations. We’re giving them the
power to find a needle in a haystack.”
The FBI defends its proposed rules, saying that they still fall under
the original law allowing wiretaps, and that privacy will still be
protected by the judiciary system.
“We still have to go before the judge. We still have to justify the
invasion of privacy in the courts,” Colgate says. “We’re not lowering the
bar by any means. This industry has been investing significant amounts of
capital into the infrastructure, and we’ve been losing (wiretap) capability
Copyright (c)1998 ABCNEWS and Starwave Corporation.
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