Civil Liberties Groups Ask FCC to Block FBI Electronic Surveillance Proposal
On August 11, 1997 the Center for Democracy and Technology and the Electronic Frontier Foundation filed a petition with the Federal Communications Commission to block the FBI from using the 1994 "Digital Telephony" law to expand government surveillance powers. The law, officially known as the "Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act" (CALEA), was intended to preserve law enforcement wiretapping ability in the face of changes in communications technologies. In the filing, CDT and EFF argue that the FBI has tried to use CALEA to expand its surveillance capabilities by forcing telephone companies to install intrusive and expensive surveillance features that threaten privacy and violate the scope of the law. The CDT/EFF petition followed a July 16 petition by the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA), which asked the FCC to intervene in the implementation of CALEA. Under a provision of CALEA designed to ensure public accountability over law enforcement surveillance ability, CDT and EFF urged the Commission to accept the CTIA request and expand its inquiry to cover privacy issues.