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IP: Cell phone tapping stirs debate

From: [email protected]
Subject: IP: Cell phone tapping stirs debate
Date: Sun, 25 Oct 1998 08:49:06 -0600
To: [email protected]

Source:  USA Today

10/22/98- Updated 12:08 PM ET
 The Nation's Homepage

 Cell phone tapping stirs debate

 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 Thursday 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 privacy.

 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 can carry out court-ordered wiretaps in
 a world of digital technology. The proposal is based on a plan
 from the telecommunications industry.

 ''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 information.''

 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 location.

 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

 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:

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

Letting police get information when the wiretap target has
put someone on hold or dropped someone from a
conference call, and letting them find out if the wiretap
target has used dialing features -- such as call waiting or call

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 technology.

 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.

 ęCOPYRIGHT 1998 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.
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