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IP: FCC Proposes Rules for Cellular Wiretaps

From: [email protected]
Subject: IP: FCC Proposes Rules for Cellular Wiretaps
Date: Fri, 23 Oct 1998 07:57:54 -0500
To: [email protected]

Source:  Washington Post

FCC Proposes Rules for Cellular Wiretaps 

By Roberto Suro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 23, 1998; Page A16 

Law enforcement agencies armed with court-authorized surveillance
orders would be able to determine the location of a mobile telephone
caller under rules proposed by the Federal Communications Commission

The FCC proposals, which are still subject to a comment and review
process, would also require wireless telephone carriers to ensure that
police could tap into conference calls and collect information on the use of
services such as call-waiting and call-forwarding on cellular phones.

Determining how wiretapping will be adapted to the age of wireless
telecommunications has been the subject of a long-running dispute
between the telephone industry, privacy groups and the Justice
Department and the FBI, which have represented law enforcement
agencies nationwide. In 1994 Congress enacted the Communications
Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, which mandated that law
enforcement get the capabilities it needed to monitor wireless
communications without imposing unreasonable costs on industry or undue
invasions of privacy. The law did not, however, spell out how this should
be accomplished.

The FCC proposals approved yesterday mark the first time that a neutral
referee has defined what exactly is required by the 1994 law and has thus
defined the final stage of the debate.

"The FCC indicated its determination to ensure that, in the face of rapid
technological change, law enforcement maintains its ability to use
court-authorized wiretaps to combat the most serious crime, and at the
same time the FCC recognized the important privacy interests at stake,"
said Jonathan Schwartz, an associate deputy attorney general.

The Center for Democracy and Technology, which has led the fight for
privacy groups, issued a statement charging that the FCC had "proposed
turning wireless phones into location tracking devices and requiring
telephone companies to build additional surveillance features into their
telephone networks, largely rejecting privacy arguments that the
government already has too much surveillance powers."

The Justice Department and the FBI asked the FCC to intervene in April
after failing to convince industry and privacy groups to accept a list of nine
technical provisions considered essential to meet law enforcement's needs.
The FCC's proposed rules accepted the law enforcement position on five
points. These include access to detailed information on conference calls,
such as knowing when a party has gone on hold or has dropped from the

In addition, the FCC acceded to law enforcement's request for access to
digits dialed by a caller after the call has been connected, such as the
numbers punched to get access to a bank account or voice mail.

The FCC rejected law enforcement demands on three points, including a
requirement that carriers send a signal to verify that a wiretap is
properly, and declined to rule on a proposal that the carrier send a signal
whenever a caller received a network message, such as an incoming ring
that did not result in a completed call.

The proposal acknowledged the telecommunications industry's complaint
that the FBI was demanding capacities "that go beyond the scope of what
Congress had intended," said Thomas E. Wheeler, president of the
Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association.

The FCC rejected a petition from the Center for Democracy and
Technology asking it to prevent law enforcement from gaining location
information from wiretaps on cellular phones. The proposed rule would
oblige carriers to provide any information they have on the location of a
phone at the beginning and termination of a call.

"This does not turn wireless phones into tracking devices," FCC Chairman
William E. Kennard said in a statement. "Law enforcement can only
secure this information if a court authorizes it. This capability will help
enforcement make our streets safe." 

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