YOU ARE AT:Archived ArticlesFBI SLOW TO RELEASE DATA KEY TO DIGITAL WIRETAP LAW

FBI SLOW TO RELEASE DATA KEY TO DIGITAL WIRETAP LAW

WASHINGTON-Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Louis Freeh is expected this week to release key data on digital wiretap implementation that Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) requested three months ago and that wireless carriers have been denied while trying to comply with the new law.

Meanwhile, the 1994 digital wiretap act remains unfunded and without any clear prospects for appropriations. The new law, aimed at improving law enforcement’s ability to fight crime by giving it access to advanced telecommunications networks, authorized $500 million for fiscal years 1995 through 1998.

The wireless industry said efforts to adhere to digital wiretap capacity obligations have been frustrated by lack of information used and analyzed by the FBI to set system capacity levels for electronic surveillance. The FBI recently received public comments on its October initial notice of wiretap capacity requirements.

Capacity requirements vary by geographic area, with categories one and two being populated cities where authorized eavesdropping has been highest and category three representing locales with fewer wiretaps in the past.

Leahy, a ranking minority member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and co-sponsor of the legislation, asked Freeh in a Nov. 3 letter to provide him and the public with historical and analytical information upon which law enforcement’s wiretap capacity demands are based.

“We are going to be responsive to Senator Leahy’s letter in such a manner that this information can be made public,” said Barry Smith, an FBI congressional affairs agent.

Smith said the data sought by Congress and industry was not fully assembled in report form at the time the FBI issued initial requirements for wiretap access to common carrier networks. He added that some information is too sensitive to release. A Senate Judiciary panel aide said Leahy will want to know why such information is being kept secret.

It is believed that some of the data referred to by Smith involves wiretaps performed by U.S. intelligence agents. The two government shutdowns since fall and the blizzard earlier this month also delayed the FBI’s reply to Leahy, said Smith.

The Personal Communications Industry Association urged the FBI “not to promulgate final capacity requirements until a standards interface document or other clarifying documents have been published, and that the definition of `engineered capacity’ be clarified and made compatible with the unique technical characteristics of wireless networks.”

The trade group said BellSouth Corp. has developed a model for estimating law enforcement capacity requirements of wireless operators.

An apparent snag for next-generation digital pocket telephone system operators is a provision in the digital wiretap statute that compensates wireless and wireline common carriers for modifying facilities put in place before Jan. 1, 1995.

That means new PCS licensees who bought network equipment before that date, but have yet to deploy it, could have to pay to retrofit facilities. However, the U.S. attorney general and the Federal Communications Commission could determine that compliance under such circumstances is not achievable and pay the PCS operator for modifications.

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