Uncle Sam wants you

Death Penalty Sought for Fourth Amendment

    As the death penalty phase of Tim McVeigh's trial grinds through a day of emotional, gut-wrenching testimony on the horrors of the Oklahoma City bombing, the right to privacy is attacked once more on Capitol Hill, all in the name of "fighting terrorism." On Thursday, June 5, FBI Director Louis Freeh went before a congressional committee to ask for more funding and broader powers for wiretapping, according to a spokesperson for the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. Three previous attempts to increase the use of wiretaps by the feds have failed and a fourth attempt is now underway to expand and fully implement the controversial "National Wiretap Plan".

    In 1994 President Clinton signed the Communications Assistance in Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), also known as the digital telephony bill. This bill requires regional telephone service providers to work with the FBI in establishing a standard interface for law enforcement to use when tapping a phone line. Law enforcement can already tap copper phone lines, but new technology in the form of digital fiber optics, smart call services like call forwarding, and wireless cellular and PCS communications, left FBI wiretappers in the dust - hence, the campaign for greater wiretapping capability.

    When CALEA passed in 1994, it promised to reimburse regional carriers for embedding a common law enforcement interface into the backbone of their call switching networks. Instead of restoring law enforcement to their old vantage ground, the new requirements would give police immediate access into the nerve center of the regional telephone carrier - a massive leap past what they had before. Where before law enforcement had to work to find the correct copper wire to tap into, now they are asking for the equivalent of requiring every new home to be built with listening devices in the walls in case they want to eavesdrop someday. The capabilities of the next century's system of surveillance are still being hammered out and the following proposals are on the table.

Multi-point or "Roving Wiretaps

cell phone

    A roving wiretap would enable police to monitor all phone calls made by a suspect, rather than just those from a specific telephone. High speed computers would monitor calls passing through a certain network, selecting and "red flagging" a conversation that contained the peculiar "voice print" - a digitized pattern of a person's unique vocal characteristics - of a person under investigation. If the suspect made a phone call from his neighbor's house, or used a cell phone or pay phone, his call would be recognized, retrieved and uploaded to a law enforcement agent by the carrier's "critical electronic equipment". These same computers would be able to recognize certain words and phrases and record those conversations for law enforcement scrutiny as well. This technology is already employed by the National Security Agency to monitor international calls, and some experts believe it is already in use in some parts of the U.S. (Source: The Implications of Roving Wiretap Technology by Allan Colombo, Safety and Security Magazine). The FBI has also requested the capability to track the location of every cell phone in the U.S. that is in the "standby" mode. This would make a tracking device out of every cell phone used in the country.

phone tap

Preparations for Massive Surveillance

    Even while it was assuring a nervous Congress that it had no plans to increase the number of wiretaps it executes every year, the Administrative Office of the United States Courts records show that federal electronic intercepts have increased 30-40 percent since Clinton took office, and no federal magistrate has turned down a federal request for an intercept order since 1988. What's more, "...the FBI published a stealthily phrased notice in the Federal Register signaling, in effect, that the federal government wants to require the nation's phone companies to radically alter their critical electronic equipment to enable the Bureau to eavesdrop on one out of every one-hundred telephone conversations occurring at any given time in the nation's largest cities and other, undefined prime target areas." The FBI also wants authority for "emergency wiretaps" that would not require a court order and would be good for 48 hours and an easing of federal guidelines restricting how wiretaps are used. (Op-ed published in the Los Angeles Daily Journal  entitled, "Congress plans National Wiretap Week" by Laura W. Murphy, Director, ACLU National Office 3/96).

Call-forwarding and Prepaid Calling Cards

    Also being pressed for by Director Freeh as we write is the capability to wiretap calls that were rerouted by the "call waiting" feature on a terrorist's phone. This would include "ultra call-waiting" a terrorist could activate from another phone. The wiretap would be rerouted along with the incoming call, and this function would be built in to the standard law enforcement interface in the carrier's switching equipment. In case the terrorist in question buys a prepaid calling card at Wal-Mart, Director Freeh wants that ability to tap those calls as well. (Source: Jack King, Public Relations Director of National Assoc. of Criminal Defense Lawyers).

Worn Out Terrorism Excuse

   TheClinton Administration is claiming that increased wiretapping authority is needed to protect "national security" from a "terrorist threat". In a July '96 news conference White House spokeswoman Mary Ellen Glynn said, "[Clinton would] like to give the FBI more tools so there will be no more bombing like at the Olympics." (Source: CNN). The facts do not support these suppositions. The government's own statistics show that terrorism is at a 25-year low. The government has not requested or used a wiretap for an explosives investigation since the 1980's. Over the past ten years, only 0.2 percent of all electronic intercepts were obtained for cases involving arson and bombings. (Source: Partisan Politics v. Bill of Rights by Jeralyn Merritt NACDL 10/96). Since 83 percent of electronic intercepts are used to investigate possible gambling and drug offenses (source: ACLU), the "terrorist threat" excuse just doesn't hold water.

Finger pushing button

    Wiretaps in 1996 increased by 30-40% according to the Department of Justice. The FBI's own report indicates that it plans to double the amount of private phone calls it intercepts by the year 2004, yet more than 80 percent of all conversations intercepted during a wiretap are of an innocent nature. During an average wiretap, 2,000 calls and 175 people are intercepted. That means in 1995 over two-million innocent calls were intercepted. (ibid.)

Threat Does Not Justify the Cost

    The task of embedding the standard law enforcement interface into the nation's regional telephone switches, as well as its cellular, pcs, pager and e-mail systems is more than daunting, it's almost like putting the man on the moon. The cost has not even been estimated - it will cost billions - and the software and programming requirements are mind boggling. A Bell company spokesman was quoted on Public Radio as saying that just the "call waiting" feature that lets a customer know when another call is coming in, uses a program with 2-million lines of code. The violation of privacy as well as the overwhelming cost and logistical demands of the National Wiretap Plan are clearly not justified by the alleged "terrorist threat".

Persistent Hypocrisy

    Some in Congress have been reluctant in giving the FBI the carte blanche wiretap authority it wants. Even though CALEA was partially funded when it was signed into law, some in Congress have thwarted efforts to broaden its authority and funding. After its second setback in August '96, the president angrily lashed out at Congress for "stripping from the anti-terrorism legislation key provisions that law enforcement needs to help them find out, track down, and shut down terrorists." "We cannot cast aside any tools in this fight for the security of our country and the safety of our people", he declared.

    In October '96 a few congressmen tried to slip the new wiretap provisions and funding into a 1,500- page defense spending bill, which seemed doomed for passage because of the approaching recess. The sleight of hand became public after a newspaper ran an article on the attempted "stealth legislation" and the wiretap provisions were removed from the spending bill.

    In a recent speech at Morgan State University in Maryland, President Clinton said, "The right to privacy is one of our most cherished freedoms" and that "technology should not be used to break down the wall of privacy and autonomy free citizens are guaranteed in a free society." Even while proclaiming the right to privacy, the Chief Executive is continuing his campaign to expand electronic surveillance of all Americans through the National Wiretap Plan, all in the name of "security".

phone card

Death Penalty for Fourth Amendment Right to Privacy

    Wiretapping would not be so bad if it were government phones being tapped so all Americans could eavesdrop, but unfortunately, this is not the case. The U.S. government is moving to seize for itself the option to eavesdrop on any American at any time it chooses. Few Americans realize the true implications of this move. It means that the U.S. government now fears American citizens and is moving to protect itself from them at tremendous cost. Instead of "national security", it is "government security" at the cost of individual liberties.

    Like a tidal wave, the government is attacking privacy across a broad front. A national identification card is being developed that will incorporate fingerprint and iris characteristics. A social security number is required for many forms that have nothing to do with social security benefits and, more and more, banks are requiring people to submit a fingerprint in order to cash a check. The masses submit, mindlessly believing that it is for their protection.

    A government that steals the rights of its citizens for its own security will find that it is never secure. Mindless citizens that permit the usurpation of their rights in exchange for "security" will find they are never secure from the government. The participants will eventually turn on and destroy one another which will bring a just conclusion to the whole matter.


Written 6/8/97


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