Feds asked to hang up on FBI's wiretap proposal

A cell phone trade group says the proposal puts an unfair burden on broadband subscribers to fund a network overhaul.

A major cell phone trade group objected to a proposal that would force broadband Internet providers to rewire their networks to support easy wiretapping by police.

The proposal, from the U.S. Department of Justice, the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration, is "expressly exempted from the law" and puts an unfair burden on broadband subscribers to fund any network overhaul, according to a regulatory filing by the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA), whose members include the nation's top cell phone service providers.

Last month, the three law enforcement agencies asked the Federal Communications Commission to require all broadband service providers to come under the jurisdiction of the 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, or CALEA. That law requires telecommunications carriers to rewire their networks to government specifications to provide police with guaranteed access for wiretaps.

The CTIA's members are interested in the outcome, because many, like Nextel Communications, are beginning to launch wireless broadband services. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has expressed concerns about the proposal's broad scope and the FBI's authority over new technologies.

A ruling on the proposal isn't expected for several months.

The New York State Attorney General's office, summing up the position of law enforcement in general on the issue, told the FCC recently that "there can be no more delay" in lifting the Internet's exemption from existing wiretapping laws.

"Critical electronic surveillance is being compromised today," New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer wrote in his comments to the FCC. "In a post-Sept. 11 world, the commercial interests of telecommunications carriers can no longer trump law enforcement's use of court-authorized intercepts to protect the public."

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