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IP: Enhanced Ability to Tap Cell Phones

From: [email protected]
Subject: IP: Enhanced Ability to Tap Cell Phones
Date: Thu, 22 Oct 1998 11:21:56 -0500
To: [email protected]

Source:  Washington Post

Federal Plan Would Enhance Police
Ability to Tap Cell Phones 

By Jeannine Aversa
Associated Press Writer
Thursday, October 22, 1998; 11:16 a.m. EDT 

WASHINGTON - Law enforcement officials say they need to know
where a suspected criminal is when he makes a cellular telephone call.
Federal regulators are proposing to give them the capability to find out. 

The Federal Communications Commission without dissent proposed
today that cellular phone companies make technical changes so the FBI,
police and other law enforcers - as long as a court approves - can
locate a person talking on a mobile phone. 

This and other additional wiretapping capabilities being proposed aim to
help law enforcers keep pace with technology. 

With some 66 million cellular phone customers, police want the authority
to legally tap cell phones to track down drug dealers, terrorists and
kidnappers. But some groups worry that such a practice could violate

The location proposal is part of a larger plan to implement a 1994 law that
requires telecommunications companies to make changes in their networks
so police are able to carry out court-ordered wiretaps in a world of digital
technology. The proposal is based on a plan from the telecommunications

"We think this is a positive step forward," said Stephen Colgate, the
Justice Department's assistant attorney general for administration. "In
many kidnapping cases, it would have been very helpful to have location

But James Dempsey, counsel to the Center for Democracy and
Technology, a privacy group, said: "We're prepared to fight this one every
step of the way." 

FCC Chairman Bill Kennard stressed that police would have no access to
locations without a court order. 

"A lot of people are saying the FCC will turn mobile phones into tracking
devices for the FBI and invade Americans' privacy. I don't believe that
will be the case," Kennard said. 

With a court order, police already can legally listen in to cell phone
conversations, and, in some instances, get information on the caller's

But not every company has the technical ability to provide a caller's
location. This proposal, if adopted, would set up a nationwide requirement
for companies to follow. 

The legal standard for obtaining a location is lower than the standard for a
wiretap order in which police must show a judge there is probable cause
of criminal activity. 

Under the proposal, police would only need to show the location is
relevant to an investigation. Privacy groups say that means the government
could easily track the movements not only of a suspect, but also of
associates, friends or relatives. 

It would give police the ability to obtain the cellular phone user's location
at the beginning and end of a wiretapped call. 

The proposal would provide police with that information based on the
cellular tower, or "cell" site, where a call originated and ended. That would
give information on the caller's location within several city blocks in an
urban area to hundreds of square miles in a rural area. 

The FBI had been seeking more exact location information. 

The FCC also is expected to tentatively conclude that companies must
give police, as long as a court approves, additional capabilities - beyond
minimum technical standards already proposed by the industry - so their
ability to conduct wiretaps won't be thwarted. 

The additional capabilities being sought by the FBI that were advanced by
the FCC include: 

-Giving police the ability to listen in on the conversations of all people on
a conference call, even if some are put on hold and no longer talking to the
target of a wiretap. 

-Giving police the ability to get information when the wiretap target has
put someone on hold or dropped someone from a conference call; and to
know if the wiretap target has used dialing features - such as call waiting
or call forwarding. 

-Giving police the number dialed by a wiretap target when the suspect,
for instance, uses a credit or calling card at a pay phone. 

Privacy groups and the telephone industry contend the additional
capabilities sought by the FBI go beyond the 1994 law and are an attempt
to broaden wiretapping powers. The FBI says it merely wants to preserve
the ability to conduct legal wiretaps in a world of constantly changing

The FCC is involved because the Justice Department, FBI and the
telecommunications industry, after three years of negotiations, were unable
to reach agreement on the larger plan for implementing the 1994 law. 

All interested parties will get a chance to offer opinions on the proposal,
which could be revised. Kennard wants a final plan adopted by the end of
the year. 

  Copyright 1998 The Associated Press 
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