News

Oxley Wants Wiretapping Provision

9/30/2001 8:00 PM Eastern

Rep. Mike Oxley (R-Ohio) is seeking changes to a House broadband-deregulation bill that would ensure law-enforcement agencies can access advanced data networks to monitor communications by suspected terrorists.

Oxley said he wants to amend the legislation to ensure that key deregulatory provisions do not preclude the Federal Communications Commission from requiring phone companies to comply with electronic-surveillance statutes.

"Our authorities must have the tools to intercept terrorist and criminal communications," Oxley said in a Sept. 19 letter to Reps. Billy Tauzin (R-La.) and John Dingell (D-Mich.), chief sponsors of the legislation. "But a court order for wiretapping is useless unless law enforcement can access the communications networks being used."

Under the bill (HR 1542), the Baby Bells would be allowed to immediately enter the data long-distance market and permitted to restrict access to their advanced networks. The bill would also bar the FCC, states and local government from interfering with the Bells' Internet-access business.

Oxley said he was concerned that the pre-emption language could be interpreted to mean that the FCC is barred from requiring the Bells to comply with wiretapping laws, principally the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA).

The amendment would clarify that CALEA still applied under the Tauzin-Dingell bill and would require the phone companies to comply with CALEA as a condition of regulatory relief, Oxley said.

Oxley aide Tim Johnson said the amendment was gaining support with respect to the continued application of CALEA to the Baby Bells' data networks. But he said Oxley has been encountering resistance to the provision that requires CALEA compliance prior to deregulation.

The Tauzin-Dingell bill narrowly passed the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The House Judiciary Committee reported the bill with an unfavorable recommendation.

Tauzin had been expecting House floor action this month, but the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon have forced the House and Senate to concentrate on national security and airline-bailout legislation.

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