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IP: FCC To Propose Resolving Digital Wiretap Debate

From: [email protected]
Subject: IP: FCC To Propose Resolving Digital Wiretap Debate
Date: Sat, 17 Oct 1998 06:07:00 -0500
To: [email protected]


Date: Sat, 17 Oct 1998 01:37:23 -0500
From: Kepi <[email protected]>
Subject: FCC To Propose Resolving Digital Wiretap Debate

Source: Yahoo! News 

Friday October 16 3:00 PM EDT 

FCC To Propose Resolving Digital Wiretap Debate
By Aaron Pressman

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Federal Communications Commission next week will
propose requiring telephone companies to make a series of changes to give
law enforcement agencies additional wiretapping capabilities, people
familiar with the plan said.

The proposal, which will only be issued for comment and could be changed,
seeks to resolve the long-running dispute between the telephone industry,
privacy advocates and the FBI over terms of the 1994 Communications
Assistance for Law Enforcement Act.

The law was intended to preserve the FBI's ability to conduct wiretaps as
telephone carriers introduced new digital technology making traditional
alligator clip-and-wire approaches obsolete. But the law also sought to
maintain the existing limits on wiretapping authority that protect the
privacy of ordinary citizens.

Much to the chagrin of privacy groups, the FCC's preliminary proposal would
require wireless telephone carriers to turn over to law enforcers the
location of a mobile phone user at the beginning and end of a tapped call,
people familiar with the plan said.

``From a privacy protection perspective, the tracking question is
tremendously important,'' said Jim Dempsey, senior staff counsel at the
Center for Democracy and Technology, a nonprofit privacy group in Washington.

``Congress never would have passed this legislation if they thought they
were turning cell phones into tracking devices,'' added Dempsey, who as a
congressional staffer helped draft the law.

But, heeding the call of privacy advocates, the FCC proposal will urge
further study concerning the way digital calling information is turned over
to law enforcers.

Under current law, the police must give a judge evidence of probable cause
of criminal activity to get permission to tap a call. But to get basic
routing information, such as what numbers were called from a particular
phone, the police need show only that the information might be relevant to
an investigation, a much lower standard.

In digital calling networks, however, a call is split up into tiny data
packets that contain both the voice transmission and routing and signaling

An industry proposal last year would have turned over to police entire
packets of information, including both the routing data and the actual call
itself, when just basic routing information was authorized.

The FCC proposal will seek to determine if a more limited method of handing
over just routing information would be feasible.

The FBI has already rejected as inadequate the industry proposal that
included the cell phone location and full packet disclosure provisions. The
agency asked the FCC to require carriers to add another nine capabilities,
such as the ability to continue listening to a conference call even if the
caller being tapped hangs up.

The FCC proposal recommends some but not all of the nine items should be
added to phone networks, but also asked for further comments on all nine

The industry fears refitting existing equipment to add those capabilities
will cost billions of dollars. Their fears were confirmed in a recent
letter from Attorney General Janet Reno and FBI Director Louis Freeh to
Congress, dated Oct. 6, and obtained by Reuters, that conceded the costs
could reach $2 billion.

Industry participants were pleased that the FCC was moving to address the
issues, though. ``We have not seen the details yet but we're pleased the
FCC is moving forward,'' Jeff Cohen, a spokesman for the Personal
Communications Industry Association, said.

Copyright  1998 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.


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