Easing Of Internet Regulations Challenges Surveillance Efforts
The FCC and law enforcement agencies are embroiled in a dispute that pits two central tenets of Bush administration policy against each other: On the one hand, FCC Chairman Michael K. Powell is working to loosen regulations on high-speed cable services that would foster emerging technologies such as voice-over Internet protocol.
However, the Justice Department, FBI, and the DEA oppose the loosened regulations because it would inhibit their ability to tap phone calls and other communication sent over those networks.
The Justice Department recently tried to block the FCC from appealing an appeals court ruling that partially struck down an FCC deregulation attempt; in Brand X Internet Services v. Federal Communications Commission, the FCC is fighting to classify cable broadband as an “information service” and bring it under the 1996 Telecommunications Act. That move would make it difficult for law enforcement to enforce wiretap orders since they only have clear legal right to do so for “telecommunications” under the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act of 1994.
Justice Department deputy assistant attorney general John G. Malcolm says the FCC effort and resulting ambiguity has already emboldened some telecommunications carriers to deny law enforcement wiretap privileges. If cable broadband falls under the 1994 law, then service providers would be required to make provisions for wiretaps.
Telecommunications industry counsel Stewart A. Baker says the industry fears the FBI or similar agencies could eventually enforce technical rules on the Internet.
Law enforcement officials say how to fulfill the requirements are up to the service providers, but other onerous requirements under the 1994 law, including access to 911 emergency services and universal availability, could hinder deployment of new services.
Abstracted by the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center(NLECTC) from the New York Times (01/22/04) P. A1; Labaton, Stephen