August 27, 1999
WASHINGTON, DC -- The Electronic Privacy Information Center
(EPIC) today warned that a new Federal Communications Commission
(FCC) decision could result in a significant increase in
government interception of digital communications.  In its
decision, the Commission largely has adopted technical standards
proposed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) that would
dictate the design of the nation's telecommunications networks.
Included is a requirement that cellular telephone networks must
have the ability to track the physical location of cell phone
The decision comes just one week after disclosure of a Justice
Department proposal to authorize secret police break-ins to
access information on computers in private homes and offices.
The FCC proceeding 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 current proceeding before the Commission.  EPIC
opposed the enactment of CALEA in 1994 and has participated as a
party in the FCC proceeding.
Only the general outline of the FCC decision was announced
today; the full text of the Commission's decision will be
released next week.  Based upon the initial FCC announcement,
EPIC has serious concerns that the Commission action could
frustrate the privacy interests protected by federal statutes
and the Fourth Amendment.  According to EPIC's General Counsel,
David Sobel, "The FBI was 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
appears to have resolved this issue in favor of police powers
and against privacy."  Sobel said that EPIC will review the full
text of the decision when it becomes available and may challenge
the FCC action in federal court.
"Privacy is under assault, and the public is increasingly
concerned," said Sobel.  "It's time to put the breaks on
intrusive government action and reverse the trend toward
increased surveillance and information collection."
EPIC's formal comments in the FCC proceeding on CALEA are
available at:
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