FBI wants to eavesdrop on fiber links

It's of "paramount importance" that wiretapping rules be extended to Verizon's broadband-over-fiber service, federal police say.

The FBI wants to force Verizon Communications to make sure that its broadband-over-fiber service can be easily wiretapped by police and spy agencies.

In a letter sent to the Federal Communications Commission last month, the FBI said that Verizon's 30mbps (megabits per second) Fios service must be required to abide by a 1994 law that levied complex and expensive eavesdropping requirements on traditional phone companies. The Drug Enforcement Administration and the Justice Department joined the request.

The request made to the FCC marks the latest skirmish in the war over what wiretap rules should apply to the Internet and who will pay for the costs of buying equipment to provide police and spy agencies with backdoors for secret surveillance. The FCC is expected to take a step toward laying down some ground rules at its next meeting on Wednesday.

Verizon said last month that Fios will be launched in Keller, Texas, followed by parts of Southern California and Florida, and will be only slightly more expensive than the company's DSL (digital subscriber line) offerings. The technology is sometimes called FTTP, meaning fiber to the premises.

At issue in the police agencies' request is whether the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) applies to Fios and similar broadband-over-fiber services that other former Bell companies are planning. If CALEA were not extended to fiber links, wiretaps would still be possible, but the FBI might have to upgrade its Carnivore system, also called DCS1000.

While Congress appears to have intended CALEA to apply to traditional phone service, the FBI and its allies argue that terrorists, drug traffickers and organized crime would flourish if the law's requirements are not extended to the Internet. The FCC has already ruled that DSL is covered by CALEA because it shares a copper wire with analog phone service.

"It is of paramount importance that the (FCC) be able to implement CALEA, an essential public-safety mandate, to its fullest extent," the police agencies wrote in their request. "Verizon or any entity providing broadband-access services using FTTP or any other technology must comply with CALEA."

In certain investigations dealing with non-U.S. citizens, intelligence agencies also can use CALEA-required wiretapping facilities.

The letter to the FCC echoes an earlier request that the same trio of federal agencies made in March. At the time, Verizon agreed that its broadband services should be covered by the wiretap law. A company representative said Tuesday that they "are generally in agreement" with the government about CALEA's reach.

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