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Executive Summary Although the FBI has characterized its proposed "Digital Telephony legislation as relating to the preservation of government's ability to engage in authorized wiretap. ping, the proposal actually requires that all communications and computer systems be designed to facilitate interception of private messages, on a concurrent and remote basis--thus imposing new engineering standards that go far beyond any existing law. As currently drafted, the proposal would impose substantial costs and create significant uncertainties, despite the absence of any clear showing that the proposed measures uould be either effective or necessary. In addition, the proposal raises serious security 2!1d privacy concerns.
Beginning in 1991, the FBI expressed concern that technological changes occurring in the telecommunications industry might have an adverse effect on the ability of law
enforcement officials to conduct lauful, authorized wiretapping. For example, the FBI raised questions about its ability to extract individual telephone calls from multiplexed signals sent over light fibers using new digital protocols. Various FBI proposals have generated concern on the part of industry that the security and privacy of electronic communications and computer systems might be weakened and that the competitiveness or technical advancement of various systems might be undercut. No one in industry challenges the FBI's right to cooperation in seeking to implement wiretaps or disagrees with the proposition that law enforcement officials need communications interception tools to do their vital job. The communications industry, network users and public interest groups are concerned with the sweep of the FBI's draft proposal and the potential uncertainties and costs it would impose.
Although the FBI proposal is described as relating to "digital telephony," it actually applies to all forms of communication, including all computer networks. The proposal requires that equipment be designed to give access to communications on a concurrent" basis, regardless of the mobility of a target, in isolation from messages being exchanged by any other persons. These requests may have complex and differing application in different contexts, but they would certainly introduce additional costs and uncertainties for both equipment manufacturers and everyone who offers messaging service to others. These days, the list of those covered by the proposal ("providers of electronic communications services and "PBX owners“) includes just about everyone. Because the wiretap statute was written to protect the privacy of a broad range of communications types, and because of the growing interdependence and intermixing of all forms of communications, the statutory language of the FBI proposal could turn out to require redesign or expensive alteration of:
• public electronic mail systems, like those offered by MCI, AT&T and
others; • all telephone switches and the equipment used by long distance carriers; . • software used by online information services like Prodigy, GEnie, Com
puserve, America Online and many others; • local area networks, linking all kinds of computers, operated by small
businesses, colleges and universities and other organizations, including
links into these systems from homes and offices; • PBXs owned by small and large businesses: • high speed networks connecting workstations with mainframes and
supercomputers, as well as those carrying traffic across the "Internet;" • radio-based and cellular communications systems, including pocket tele
phones and computers with radio-based modems; • the thousands of personal computers owned by businesses, hobbyists, local governments, and political organizations that communicate with others
via computer bulletin boards; • private metropolitan wide area communications systems used by busi
nesses such as large banks; • satellite uplink and downlink equipment supporting radio and television
transmissions and other communications: and
While the FBI proposal is described as
relating to "digital telephony," it actually applies to all forms of
communication, including all computer
• air-to-ground equipment serving general Aviation and commercial air
The United States is becoming an information economy. Imposing mandatory system design requirements on those involved in the transfer of information has an impact on large numbers of people and most sectors of the economy.
There is no doubt that coolving technologies will challenge law enforcement officials and industry alike. We need effective law enforcement tools, as well as appropriate levels of privacy and security in communications and computer systems. The goals underlying the FBI proposal are valid and important ones. But they may well be best achieved without additional legislation. Industry has historically cooperated with law enforcement and is presently engaged in ongoing discussions to identify specific problems and concrete solutions. This cooperative process will lead to needed exchanges of technical information, better understanding on all sides of the real policy issues, and better, more cost-effective solutions. Congress should reject the FBI proposal and encourage continuing discussions that will lead to more specific identification of any problems and to more concrete, cost-effective solutions.
The Digital Telephony Report
Introduction: What Is Proposed?
Existing law requires al companies providing electronic communications services to cooperate fully with lawful requests from the FBI and other law enforcement officials — and there is no history of any general failure to provide such cooperation
Existing law contemplates that the government will bear the costs imposed by requests for access to communications. (As noted below, the proposal does not specifically extend that principle.) There is no showing that the
There have been few actual problems,
historically, in executing authorized
wiretaps. None have stemmed from characteristics of
communications equipment design....
government lacks thu inancial resources to modernize its communications equipinent or to fund the costs of lawful interceptions that it initiates.
Since the total number of content wiretaps in 1991 authorized by Federal and State courts was only 856 taps (and almost 60% of these were at the State level, 356 Federal versus 500 State), and since the call-set-upor pen register tap orders for 1991 at the Federal level were only 2,445, (thus, implying a national lotal under 7.000), it appears the costs may be better targeted to the specific lines or ports necessary, instead of burdening all lines or ports existing in the retwork
By comparison, there were over 138 million access lines as of December 31, 1990 according to the United States Telephone Association, and this docs not include ports used for cellular ur many other network accesses. (We under stand the current FBI buidget provides for $9 million for new digital telephony interception equipment.) Thus, although there is valid reason to be concerned that changes in technology will challenge law enforcement agencies to find and adopt new techniques, there is no immediate crisis requiring swift action.
Broad Scope of the Current Proposal.
every business that has its own phone switch ; and every company that operates its own local or wide area computer
network. The Electronic Communications Privacy Act defines "electronic communications services to include electronic mail
, file transfers over a Local Area Network (“LAN") and, indeed, every form of transmission of a message other than voice telephone calls (which are also covered by the proposal as "Wire" communications, and sound waves in the open air (the only
form of communication not covered by the proposal). (See 18 U.S.C.2510(12), (15).) AU "providers of such services would
be affirmatively required, within three years, to provide law enforcement officials with the capability and capacity" to intercept communications. This capability would have to be provided "concurrently with the communication, without detection (apparently without regard to the target of the wiretap possibly employing sophisticated wiretap detection capabilities), exclusive of any communications between other parties, regardless of the nobility of the target, and without degradation of service.
These absolute requirements might not be capable of being met, as a technical matter, in some contexts, regardless of costs. The proposal is redundant, in the sense that it requires the ability to access communications at all points during their trarısmission, even though access at one point is all that is needed in any given circumstance. Although current wiretap law requires "minimization and use of wiretaps as a "last resort," the proposal imposes obligations on all communications systems as if preserving the ability to wiretap at any point should be the system designer's highest priority. The application of these requirements would have substantially different costs and other implications depending upon where in a communications pathway they were actually applied. In any event, they dramatically expand the nature and reach of current law - which requires cooperation but does not grant the government a right to redesign the communications network or the equipment used by large numbers of businesses.
The FBI has defended its proposal on the ground that it is only seeking to "preserve the status quo," by preventing changes in technology from taking away capabilities that Congress meant to assure when it passed the 1968 and 1986 wiretap statutes. But that anischaracterizes the "status quo." The current wiretap statutes take the communications networks as they find them and do not require any provider of communications service to redesign the system, or to refrain from using any particular technology, solely on the ground that such a technology would
make interception more difficult. While there may well be
(The proposal) greatly expands the
jurisdiction of the Attorney General and would represent a giant step beyond
current law and congressional intent
going back to 1968.
sound reasons for all concerned to cooperate to seek to preserve for the government a practical ability to engage in authorized wiretapping, there is simply nocxisting legal authority for law enforcement officials to mandate the we of particular technologies and, thus, contrary to the claims made by the FBI, the proposal does not simply maintain the status quo, but greatly expands the jurisdiction of the Attorney General and would represent a giant step beyond current law and congressional intent going back to 1968.
While the proposal imposes substantial uncertainties, there is no question that, as drafted, it would have an extremely broad reach. As a result, it could complicate the development of various new technologies. Even though the language of the proposal would extend to cable information systems and Automated Teller Machines ("ATMs"), the FBI has stressed in its proposal that various systeins might be exempted by executive action. But the exemption authority is vague and standardless - so the net effect is that every system provider has to worry on a continuing basis about whether or not its system is covered. Moreover, the proposal is clearly designed to cover any system facilitating two-way conversation, regardless of the size of the communications service provider. In consequence, any small business that installs its own local PBX system for forwarding calls from customers could be required to replace its equipment with new switches that meet the law's requirements. If current online information services do not track the "services" and "features used by those who send messages through their electronic mail channels, then expensive modifications might be mandated. Because these electronic mail systems are all being joined together, and some function as links that forward messages between other systems, all might have to be designed to allow "real time interception by retransmission to a remote site-even though delayed searches of stored files would seem to make a lot more sense in the context of electronic mail.
Costs Likely to Be Imposed by the Proposal.
The proposal mandates compliance with very broadly stated functional standards and contemplates that exemptions (available from the Attorney General, without the benefit of any specific standards or criteria) will be granted only after this broad new governmental authority has been enacted into law. The most recent proposal assumes that the costs of compliance will become a cost of doing business imposed on all communications service providers - and passed on to telephone ratepayers and other subscribers to electronic communications services. (The current law's provision that the government will pay reasonable expenses incurred in cooperating with a specific request for interception has not been expressly applied to this new requirement to "provide the capability and capacity to respond to such requests.) Communication service providers and computer equipment manufacturers could suffer major losses as a result of delays, mandatory redesigns, and even prohibition of certain technological options. There has been no opportunity as yet to compare (1) the costs the FBI would incur to modernize its approach to interception (especially given the data on the small number of laps performed annually) with (2) the costs that would be incurred by
Although there is
valid reason to be concerned that changes
will challenge law enforcement agencies
to find and adopt new techniques, there is no immediate crisis requiring swift action.
consumers as a result of mandatory limitations on new technology design
which the proposal refers?
sages at the point of origin?
the transmission to the recipient“ mean that an electronic mailor voice
cation is made?
As drafted, the proposal appears to threaten U.S.
interests in international trade and competitiveness.
Threat to Security and Privacy.