Washington -- The Federal Communications Commission
announced long-expected changes to a controversial law that gives law enforcement access
to telecommunications-carrier facilities for surveillance operations.
The commission clarified industry guidelines and standards
regarding implementation of the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, which
Congress passed in 1994 to ensure legally authorized electronic surveillance by legal
"Our actions today will help to ensure that law
enforcement has the most up-to-date technology to fight crime," FCC chairman William
Kennard said in a prepared statement. "We have carefully balanced law enforcement's
needs against the rights of all Americans to privacy and the cost to industry of providing
these tools to assist law enforcement."
The law -- administered jointly by the FCC and the
Department of Justice -- will assist the FBI in wire-tapping procedures, which have been
made more difficult by advances in digital wireline, cellular and broadband technology.
"The continuing technological changes in the nation's
telecommunications systems present increasing challenges to law enforcement,"
Attorney General Janet Reno said in a prepared statement.
"This ruling will enable law enforcement to keep pace
with these changes and ensure that we will be able to maintain our capability to conduct
court-authorized electronic surveillance," she added.
The FCC said companies that provide telecommunications
services -- including cable operators and common carriers -- must implement the CALEA
standard by Sept. 30, 2001, if the agency determines that compliance is "reasonably
After CALEA passed in Congress five years ago, the
Telecommunications Industry Association authored an interim compliance standard until a
compromise between the FBI and privacy advocates could be reached.
The FCC approved six "punch-list" provisions
requested by the FBI that would give law enforcement access to conference-call content,
call-participant information, dialing and signaling information, network messages, timing
information and dialed-digit data.
The FCC denied the FBI three provisions that would require
telecommunications suppliers to verify all wiretap connections, to alert law enforcement
of call-content-interception failures and to notify law enforcement of service changes in
areas under surveillance.
Despite initial satisfaction with the FCC ruling, the TIA
said it needed more time to implement the new rules.
"A CALEA solution is not like buying a software
program at the office-supply store, where you can go home and load the program onto your
computer in a few minutes," TIA president Matthew Flanigan said in a statement.
"Manufacturers are having to develop solutions that
must interface with hundreds of different network elements, while not crashing the
telecommunications network," he added.
A National Cable Television Association spokesman said the
trade association had not seen a final copy of the CALEA document, only a news release.
"It's really addressed to telephone services, not cable," he added. "To the
extent that we provide telephone services, we will be affected."
The FCC said the timeline for compliance was sufficient.
"We set a standard that we believe is realistic,"
an FCC official said. "There was much work that was done already. They're not
starting from scratch."
States News Service