[Politech] Weekly column: FBI's latest wiretapping push [priv]

From: Declan McCullagh (declan@private)
Date: Mon Apr 19 2004 - 20:48:34 PDT

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    Shhh! The FBI's listening to your keystrokes
    April 19, 2004, 4:00 AM PT
    By Declan McCullagh
    The FBI is trying to convince the government to mandate that providers 
    of broadband, Internet telephony, and instant-messaging services build 
    in backdoors for easy wiretapping.
    That would constitute a sweeping expansion of police surveillance 
    powers. Instead of asking Congress to approve the request, the FBI 
    (along with the Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement 
    Administration) are pressing the Federal Communications Commission to 
    move forward with minimal public input.
    The three agencies argue that the 1994 Communications Assistance for Law 
    Enforcement Act (CALEA) permits the FCC to rewire the Internet to suit 
    the eavesdropping establishment.
    "The importance and the urgency of this task cannot be overstated," 
    their proposal says. "The ability of federal, state and local law 
    enforcement to carry out critical electronic surveillance is being 
    compromised today."
    Unfortunately for the three agencies, CALEA, as it's written, would not 
    grant the request.
    When Congress was debating CALEA, then-FBI Director Louis Freeh 
    reassured nervous senators that the law would be limited to telephone 
    calls. (CALEA was intended to let police wiretap conversations flowing 
    through then-novel services like cellular phones and three-way calling.)
    "So what we are looking for is strictly telephone--what is said over a 
    telephone?" Sen. Larry Pressler, R-S.D., asked.
    Freeh replied: "That is the way I understand it. Yes, sir."
    A House of Representatives committee report prepared in October 1994 is 
    emphatic, saying CALEA's requirements "do not apply to information 
    services such as electronic-mail services; or online services such as 
    CompuServe, Prodigy, America Online or Mead Data (Central); or to 
    Internet service providers."
    [...remainder snipped...]
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