FBI asks for telecom help on surveillance: report

With telecommunication service providers using packet-based transmissions like voice over IP (Internet Protocol) for phone calls more often, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) wants U.S. carriers to help make those new kinds of networks easier to tap, according to a report.

The FBI requested carriers make network changes to assist law enforcement agencies to tap packet-based phone calls, the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday. Complying with the demands could cost carriers US$1 billion, according to comments made by Albert Gidari, a telecommunication lawyer at Perkins Coie LLP in Seattle, in the report.

In a 32-page letter to major carriers, the FBI made the demands in an effort to gain compliance with the Communications Assistance to Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) of 1994, according to the report. CALEA requires carriers to modify their equipment, facilities, and services to allow police to conduct authorized electronic surveillance on packet-based networks.

In the letter, the FBI asks carriers, among other things, to provide the ability to lay multiple taps on a single line, to provide real-time monitoring of network traffic, to allow undetectable wiretaps and to have better wiretap reliability, according to the Journal.

The Sept. 30 deadline for compliance with the list of requirements was pushed back to Nov. 19 by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) at the pleading of the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA). The CTIA and other parties contested certain technical compliance standards on privacy grounds in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, according to the FCC order temporarily suspending the Sept. 30 deadline.

The CTIA argued carriers could not lawfully deliver the full content of a data packet to a law enforcement agency under a “pen register” order, and that the current packet-mode standard could be deficient if it fails to protect the privacy of communications from people not under surveillance. The CTIA argument is very similar to those made asking for a ban or restrictions on the Carnivore e-mail surveillance technology used by the FBI.

Neither the FBI nor several carriers contacted had representatives available to comment.

The FBI, in Washington, D.C., is at http://www.fbi.gov