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AN ANALYSIS OF THE FBI DIGITAL TELEPHONY
September 18, 1992
This report was prepared by
in coalition with:
wind - The Microcomputer Industry Association
Information Technology Association of
Although the FBI has characterized its proposed Digital Telephony legislation as relating to the preservation of Soukrument's ability to engage in authorized wiretap ping, the proposal actually requires that all communications and computer systemske 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 would be either effective or necessary. In addition, the proposal raises serious sourity aut 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 lawful authorized wiretapping. For example, the FBI raised questions about its ability to extract individual telephone calls froir multiplexed signals sent over light fibers using new digital protocols. Various FB! 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 serious 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 FBřs 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 cveryone. Because the wiretap statute was written to protect the privacy of 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
While the FBI proposal is described as
relating to "digital telephony," it actually applies to all forms of
communication, including all computer
• 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
puserue. America Online and many others; • local area networks, linking all kinds of computers, operated by somall 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 benks; • satellite uplink and doumlink equipment supporting radio and television
transmissions and other communications: and
• 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 doube that coolving lechnologies will challenge law enforcement officials and industry alike. We need affective loro 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. Bui 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 identifiation of any problems and to more concrete, cost-effective solutions.
The Digital Telephony Report
Introduction: What Is Proposed?
Existing law requires all 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..