Location Of Cell Phone Users – FCC Decision Threatens Communications Privacy
Leading Internet privacy advocates today asked
a federal appeals court to block new rules that would enable the
FBI to dictate the design of the nation's communication
infrastructure. The challenged rules would enable the Bureau to
track the physical locations of cellular phone users and
potentially monitor Internet traffic.
In a brief filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District
of Columbia Circuit, the Electronic Privacy Information Center
, American Civil Liberties Union and Electronic
Frontier Foundation say that the rules -- contained in a
Federal Communications Commission decision issued last
August -- could result in a significant increase in government
interception of digital communications.
The court challenge involves the Communications Assistance for
Law Enforcement Act a controversial law enacted by
Congress in 1994, which requires the telecommunications industry
to design its systems in compliance with FBI technical
requirements to facilitate electronic surveillance.
negotiations over the last few years, the FBI and industry
representatives were unable to agree upon those standards,
resulting in the recent FCC ruling. EPIC, ACLU and EFF
participated as parties in the FCC proceeding and argued that
the privacy rights of Americans must be protected.
Today's court filing asserts that the FCC ruling exceeds the
requirements of CALEA and frustrates the privacy interests
protected by federal statutes and the Fourth Amendment. Among
other things, the Commission order would require telecommuni-
cations providers to determine the physical locations of
cellular phone users and deliver 'packet-mode communications'
such as those that carry Internet traffic to law enforcement
According to EPIC's General Counsel, David L. Sobel, The FBI is
seeking surveillance capabilities that far exceed the powers law
enforcement has had in the past and is entitled to under the
law. It is disappointing that the FCC resolved this issue in
favor of police powers and against privacy.
Sobel said that the appeals court challenge raises fundamental
privacy issues affecting the American public. This case will
likely define the privacy standards for the Nation's
telecommunication networks, including the cellular systems and
In a report issued last year, the ACLU warned that the Clinton
Administration is using scare tactics to acquire vast new powers
to spy on all Americans.
If the FBI has its way, the only communications medium
invulnerable to government snooping will consist of two soup
cans and some string -- and even then, I'd be careful, said
Barry Steinhardt, Associate Director of the ACLU.
We are now at a historic crossroad, Steinhardt added. We can
use emerging technologies to protect our personal privacy, or we
can succumb to scare tactics and to exaggerated claims about the
law enforcement value of electronic surveillance and give up our
cherished rights, perhaps -- forever.
The government has been asking for more wiretapping authority
than it has ever had before, explained EFF Director of Legal
Services, Shari Steele. Just as more of our communications are
becoming digital, law enforcement is getting even greater
access. Whatever privacy balance we may have achieved in the
past is completely decimated by the FCC's interpretation of
The privacy groups are being represented on a pro bono basis by
Kurt Wimmer and Gerard J. Waldron, attorneys at the Washington
law firm of Covington & Burling, and Carlos Perez-Albuerne, an
attorney at the Boston law firm of Choate, Hall & Stewart.
The Electronic Privacy Information Center (http://www.epic.org)
is a non-profit research and advocacy organization based in
Washington, DC. It was established in 1994 to focus public
attention on emerging civil liberties issues and to protect
privacy, the First Amendment, and constitutional values in
emerging communications media.
Carey Mak contributes and publishes news editorial to http://www.cellular-camera-phones.com.
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