By Ted Bridis, Associated Press Technology Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Technology companies should be required to ensure
that law enforcement agencies can install wiretaps on Internet
traffic and new generations of digital communications, the Justice
The push would effectively expand the scope of the Communications
Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, a 1994 law that requires the
telecommunications industry to build into its products tools that
U.S. investigators can use to eavesdrop on conversations with a court
Fearful that federal agents can't install wiretaps against criminals
using the latest communications technologies, lawyers for the Justice
Department, FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration said their
proposals "require immediate attention and resolution" by the Federal
They called wiretaps "an invaluable and necessary tool for federal,
state, and local law enforcement in their fight against criminals,
terrorists, and spies."
"The ability of federal, state, and local law enforcement to carry
out critical electronic surveillance is being compromised today,"
they wrote in legal papers filed with the FCC earlier this week.
"Communications among surveillance targets are being lost.... These
problems are real, not hypothetical."
The FCC agreed last month to hold proceedings on the issue to
"address the scope of covered services, assign responsibility for
compliance, and identify the wiretap capabilities required."
Critics said the government's proposal would have far-reaching impact
on new communications technologies and could be enormously expensive
for companies that need to add wiretap-capabilities to their
products, such as push-to-talk cellular telephones and telephone
service over Internet lines.
The Justice Department urged the FCC to declare that companies must
pay for any such improvements themselves, although it said companies
should be permitted to pass those expenses on to their customers.
Stewart Baker, a Washington telecommunications lawyer and former
general counsel at the National Security Agency, complained that the
government's proposal applies broadly to high-speed Internet service
and puts limits on the introduction of new technology until it can be
Copyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
Baker said the plan "seeks to erect a brand new and quite extensive
regulatory program" that gives the FBI and telephone regulators a
crucial role in the design of future communications technologies.