FBI seeks broader surveillance

FBI seeks broader surveillance

By Joe Baker

By Joe Baker

Senior Editor

The FBI reportedly is pressuring telephone companies to alter their networks in order to improve surveillance by the bureau. The government agency contends the many telecommunications services are making it difficult to tap into suspects’ communications, according to a recent Wall Street Journal article. (Rense.com)

Demands for additional software and equipment have aroused industry sources, which estimate it would cost $1 billion to comply with FBI desires.

Telecommunications lawyer Albert Gidari, who has represented wireless companies on surveillance issues, termed the demands “mind-boggling.” Several industry executives said the FBI wants direct access to voice communications, just as it now has to e-mail through its Carnivore snooping technology. The FBI would not comment.

The bureau’s request, under the 1994 Communications Assistance to Law Enforcement Act, was in the pipeline before the attacks of 9/11. Industry spokesmen, however, said the attacks have emboldened law enforcement to take a broader interpretation of their authority.

“After Sept. 11, they’re pushing for anything and everything,” according to Terri Brooks, a manager for Nokia Corp. who is involved in the project.

The FBI sent a confidential 32-page document to telecommunications companies earlier this month, the Journal said. In it, the bureau stated: “many new packet-based services and architectures have been developed which impede or even preclude law enforcement’s full and proper execution” of investigative powers.

When communications are transmitted in packets, the message is broken down into several parts or pieces, each coded so it can be sent separately, and then reassembled at its destination. The process makes it very difficult to monitor communications.

The process is further complicated because there are many different ways to send messages through packet technology. Industry officials say it will be tremendously difficult to create standards and technology for each of them.

“The FBI has learned that it’s really difficult to get everyone on the same page,” said Lee Tien, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco advocacy group, “because the technology is changing all the time, and customer requirements vary a great deal.”

In an effort to remedy the problem, the FBI issued a set of top priority needs, considered essential “regardless of the service that is being offered.” Among these are 24-hour “real time” monitoring of communications, alerts when communication is attempted and explanation of why any message does not go through.

The FBI also said it needs greater reliability than present cell phone technology where dropped calls are frequent.

One executive said it could take up to two years to meet the federal requirements. Ed Hall, a vice-president for technology development at the Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Standards, said the FBI already has the necessary tool to meet its needs, “and it’s Carnivore.” Other industry sources said the same thing, according to the Journal. Still others said the FBI’s demands were predictable and could be met using available software.

The Journal reported that while most technical standards in the U.S. are developed through open meetings with engineers, the FBI has insisted on an extraordinary level of secrecy that slows the process.

This request comes on top of the government’s Echelon program that can monitor satellite and telecommunications networks, as delineated on the CBS 60 Minutes program.

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