NewsBriefs BUTTONS

FBI Proposes to Modify Nation's Phone Network to Advance Wiretapping


September-October 1997

A Federal Bureau of Investigation proposal for high-technology wiretapping is prompting criticm by privacy advocates and telephone companies. The Communications for Law Enforcement Act of 1994 authorized $500 million to modify the nation's phone network to allow continued wiretapping by law enforcement. The law was passed after the FBI contended that new communications technology was more advanced than their ability to monitor criminal communications (John Markoff, "Digital-Age Wiretapping Plan By F.B.I. Draws Opposition," New York Times, August 11, 1997, p. D2).

Opponents of the FBI proposal argue that after the adoption of next-generation voice and data networks by all major phone companies, it will be impossible to separate signalling or routing information from the actual content of communications. Thus, law enforcement would end up wiretapping when they are authorized only to get addressing or signaling data. Two privacy groups, the Center for Democracy and Technology and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, filed petitions with the Federal Communications Commission, saying, "In the proposed standard, industry and FBI have tacitly agreed not to try to insure that law enforcement agencies get only the information appropriate to the level of authorization in hand."

Center for Democracy and Technology - 1634 I St., NW, Washington, DC 20006, Tel: (202) 637-9800.