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Thursday, November 18, 1999
WASHINGTON, DC -- The Electronic Privacy Information Center
(EPIC) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) today asked
a federal appeals court to block new rules that would enable the
FBI to dictate the design of the nation's communication
The challenged rules would enable the Bureau to track the
physical locations of cellular phone users and monitor Internet
traffic. In a petition to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the
District of Columbia Circuit, the groups say that the rules --
contained in a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) decision
issued in August -- could result in a significant increase in
government interception of digital communications.
The court challenge involves the Communications Assistance for
Law Enforcement Act ("CALEA"), 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. In
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 and the ACLU opposed
the enactment of CALEA in 1994 and participated as parties in
the FCC proceeding.
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.
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
the Internet."
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."
A separate challenge to the FCC ruling is being filed today in
San Francisco by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which
joined EPIC and the ACLU in proceedings before the Commission.
The privacy groups are being represented on a pro bono basis by
Kurt Wimmer and Gerard J. Waldron, partners at the Washington
law firm of Covington & Burling.
Background materials on CALEA, including documents filed by EFF,
ACLU and EFF with the Federal Communications Commission, are
available at EPIC's website:
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