Wiretap Bill Alert
Marla Dinchak <207 -at- EF -dot- GC -dot- MARICOPA -dot- EDU>
Tue, 6 Sep 1994 09:32:00 -0700
Entry : 116 (3530 words)
Author : email list server <listserv -at- SUNNYSIDE -dot- COM>
Subject : Wiretap Bill Alert
Written : 09/01/94.04:45pm
Wiretap Bill Alert
Voter's Telecommunications Watch (VTW) has issued the attached alert
on the pending FBI Wiretap Bill. The Electronic Privacy Information
Center (EPIC) is working in conjunction with VTW and other organiza-
tions to educate the public on this legislation. Your involvement
is crucial -- please contact Rep. Jack Brooks IMMEDIATELY.
EPIC is a project of the Fund for Constitutional Government and
Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility.
Subject: INFO: Status of the Digital Telephony bills (SB 2375 & HR 4922)
From: shabbir -at- panix -dot- com (Shabbir J. Safdar)
Date: 29 Aug 1994 23:28:26 -0400
Message-ID: <33u90q$8mk -at- panix2 -dot- panix -dot- com>
[updated August 29, 1994 shabbir]
Table of contents:
Status of the bills
Five things you can do RIGHT now to stop Digital Telephony
Records of legislators supporting/opposing/wavering on DT
Digital Telephony bill FAQ
The VTW Press Release
Sample Letter To The Editor
Who are we and how can you contact us?
STATUS OF THE BILLS (updated 8/10/94)
Aug 18, 94 HR 4922 reported back to committee (write to Rep. Jack Brooks!)
Aug 11, 94 Sen. Leahy & Rep. Edwards hold a joint hearing on the bills in
Wash. DC at 1pm in Rayburn 2237.
Aug 10, 94 HR 4922 referred to Subcomm. on Civil and Constitutional Rights
Aug 10, 94 SB 2375 referred to Subcomm. on Technology and the Law
Aug 9, 94 Rep. Hyde officially cosponsors HR 4922
Aug 9, 94 HR 4922 referred to House Judiciary Committee
Aug 9, 94 SB 2375 referred to Senate Judiciary Committee
Aug 9, 94 Identical House and Senate bills are announced by their respective
sponsors, Rep. Don Edwards (D-CA) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT)
EFF states the legislation is "not necessary".
VTW will be monitoring this legislation in the same way that we monitored
the Cantwell bill, with the blow by blow, day to day updates that cost
us significant long distance bills. :-)
We're not asking for money though. Don't send us money; we don't want it
and it causes us bookkeeping work. Call/write your legislator instead
and relay to them the sample communiques below.
FIVE THINGS YOU CAN DO *RIGHT* NOW (in their order of importance)
1. Write to the House Judiciary Committee Chairman, Jack Brooks (D-TX)
and ask him to oppose the Digital Telephony bill. (HR 4922)
2. Fax/mail a copy of the VTW press release to your local newspaper, tv
station, call-in show (everything from NPR to Rush Limbaugh), etc.
3. Write to your legislator (especially if s/he is on the Judiciary
Committee (House or Senate) and ask that they oppose the Digital
Telephony bills. (SB 2375/HR 4922)
4. Forward a copy of this FAQ to three friends who don't know about it.
Or, print it out and place it on a bulletin board at work, at school,
hand it out, etc.
5. Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper, opposing the
Digital Telephony bill.
1. CALL/WRITE TO REP. JACK BROOKS, HOUSE JUDICIARY COMM. CHAIRMAN
Sample phone Communique:
Rep. Jack Brooks
Phone: (202) 225-6565
Dear Mr. Brooks,
The recent Digital Telephony bills (HR 4922 & SB 2375) disturb me
greatly. The FBI has not yet made their case that justifies
building wiretap functionality into the telephones of 250 million
people to justify the privacy intrusion.
Please oppose HR 4922 and SB 2375.
Sample fax/letter Communique:
Rep. Jack Brooks
Washington, DC 20515
Phone: (202) 225-6565
Fax: (202) 225-1584
The Honorable Jack Brooks,
Please oppose Senator Leahy's and Representative Edwards'
Digital Telephony bills (HR 4922 & SB 2375). This legislation
asks us, the American public, to trade our privacy to ensure law
enforcement's future ability to continue to perform wiretaps.
Unfortunately, the FBI has yet to make its case to the public
to prove that it is unable to administer significant numbers of
wiretaps. Telecommunications technology is very new and the change of
pace in it is very rapid. The Digital Telephony bills are premature
and should not be considered until:
-the standards bodies are appointed and include privacy rights
groups (not just the Electronic Frontier Foundation) at both
the technical and policy levels
-the standards are defined and accepted by the three
stakeholders (law enforcement, common carriers, and privacy
-an adequate oversight agency has been given the authority
previously allocated to the FCC
-the technology has advanced to a point where the effect of
such a broad ruling on the undustry can be ascertained.
Please oppose HR 4922 & SB 2375.
If you want to help make legislators responsible for their actions,
report this information back to vtw -at- vtw -dot- org -dot- We'll add their
position to our database.
2. Take the press release attached and fax/mail/email it to local tv
stations, radio stations, callin shows, newspapers, etc. Drop a note
to vtw -at- vtw -dot- org, where we'll track the coverage.
3. Forward this file to your friends and coworkers. Use it when you
phone call-in shows; educate everyone you know. This is literally
a "net" effort. Few people outside of the Internet know about this
legislation; they would be horrified to discover its existence. Help
4. Call/write your legislator and ask them to oppose the Digital
Telephony bill. Use the sample communiques above. To find your own
legislator, contact the League of Women Voters in your area.
5. Write a letter to your local newspaper's editorial page about the Digital
Telephony bill. We have attached a sample editorial page letter that
you might base your letter upon. Feel free to use significant license.
LIST OF LEGISLATORS SUPPORTING/OPPOSING/WAVERING ON DIGITAL TELEPHONY
All addresses are Washington, D.C. 20515
Dist ST Name, Address, and Party Phone Fax
==== == ======================== ============== ==============
16 CA Edwards, Donald (D) 1-202-225-3072 1-202-225-9460
House sponsor of the 1994 Digital Telephony bill
6 IL Hyde, Henry J. (R) 1-202-225-4561 1-202-226-1240
Cosponsor of the 1994 Digital Telephony bill
P ST Name and Address Phone Fax
= == ======================== ============== ==============
D VT Leahy, Patrick J. 1-202-224-4242 na
433 RSOB Washington, D.C. 20510
Senate sponsor of the 1994 Digital Telephony bill
DIGITAL TELEPHONY BILL FAQ
What are the (DT) Digital Telephony bills and where did they come from?
The DT bills were initially introduced by the Bush administration
presumably at the request of the FBI. The initial proposals were
very unpopular and met with great opposition, preventing them from
moving through Congress.
The current incarnations of the legislation (SB 2375 & HR 4922) have
several features, but basically require the same thing: common carriers
must be able to provide law enforcement officers with court orders
access to personal communications. (eg, if the FBI presents a court
order for a wiretap on your phone calls to NYNEX, NYNEX should be able
to provide the FBI with the ability to intercept your communications
under the terms of the court order.) To do this will require changes
in the telephone equipment we use today. Since this will obviously
cost money, the bill appropriates $500 million in Federal money to
these carriers to compensate them for the changes.
Does this include bulletin boards and Internet sites like Netcom, America
No, the legislation specifically identifies common carriers.
Information Services, such as these above, are not common carriers.
How will this affect me?
Imagine there's a giant socket on the side of the phone company's equipment
that says "FOR FBI USE ONLY" in giant red letters. Imagine if the fine
for not implementing that socket was $10,000 per day for the phone company.
How many communications carriers do you think will make any noise about
the privacy of their customers' communications?
Now imagine that you were asked to pay the bill for this. The proposed
budget for implementing this functionality is $500 million dollars for
Just how many wiretaps per year are there?
In 1992 there were less than 1,000 wiretaps performed. It is important
to note that the legislation is targeted towards wiretaps that the
government says they cannot implement. Since there is thus far no
published evidence of unimplementable wiretaps, turning the nation's
phone system into a giant eavesdropping device to prevent a problem
which has not yet been documented or become widespread, sacrifies too
much privacy for too little gain.
Is there ever a legitimate need for law enforcement to conduct wiretaps?
Yes, according to the 1992 Government Accounting Office's "Report on
Applications for Orders Authorizing or Approving the Interception of
Wire, Oral, or Electronic Communications (Wiretap Report)", there were
919 wiretaps authorized in 1992 (there were no requests denied). There
were 607 individuals convicted as a result of these wiretaps. Although
this is not an excessive amount, it is not ignorable either. However
607 convictions is infinitesmally small when one considers the number
of people convicted yearly in the US. Furthermore, the report does
not specify if any wiretaps were unimplementable because of advancing
technology. The FBI maintains that advancing technology will prevent
this, though this has not yet been documented. VTW feels that until
the the FBI makes their case to the public, this bill should not be
considered as legislation.
Why should I be worried about this bill?
THE BILL IS VAGUE REGARDING STANDARDS SETTING
The bill requires industry standards groups to be formed to work with
law enforcement to create technical standards for this functionality.
There are a number of problems with this. First is that these
standards bodies may not have even been appointed yet, giving
incredible power to a presently unnamed group that will be responsible
for appointing those bodies. Secondly, these standards bodies do not
currently include any public input. There is a delicate balance
involved in wiretapping vs. a citizen's privacy. The standards bodies
that are proposed do not have any provisions for public input.
Public-interest and/or privacy groups should be included at every level
(including the technical level) in order to ensure that this balance is
found. Without such input, the standards are likely to sacrifice
privacy while giving more functionality than is needed by law
enforcement to do its job.
THE STANDARDS SHOULD BE ACCEPTED BEFORE THE LEGISLATION IS PROPOSED
The DT legislation is vague regarding the standards for wiretapping
functionality. Many of the questions and problems we have with this
legislation stem from the vagueness of the details regarding the
standards. The standards body should be appointed (with
representatives from law enforcement, industry, and the public at both
the technical and high level) and the standards accepted before the
legislation is proposed.
THE BILL PUTS GREAT POWER INTO STANDARDS AND COMMITTEES THAT DO NOT EXIST YET
By empowering standards bodies that do not exist, and mandating
standards that do not yet exist, great power is given to those
individuals who can appoint the members of the standards bodies.
Furthermore, no process is mandated for the appointment of the members
of these standards bodies.
THE BILL DOES NOT APPOINT AN ADEQUATE OVERSIGHT AUTHORITY
In many situations the (FCC) Federal Communications Commission is
appointed to be the final arbiter if industry standard bodies cannot
agree on technical standards. The FCC currently serves the interest of
industry in regulating the communication carriers. Because the
Commission serves the interest of both groups, there is a conflict of
interest. A different ageny should be appointed and given the FCC's
TELECOMMUNICATIONS TECHNOLOGY IS NOT MATURE
Telecommunications is a very new technology. Within the last twenty
years, we have seen amazing advances in the technology. Ordering the
implementation of such a broad privacy- sensitive function will have
far-reaching effects on the future of the technology. This legislation
should wait until the technology is more stable.
[Please fax this to your local newspaper]
Voter's Telecommunications Watch invites fellow
citizens to join its media awareness campaign by
emailing or faxing this press release to one of
two media institutions.
East of the Mississippi:
West of the Mississippi:
San Jose Mercury-News
VTW is also experimenting with a fax/email chain
letter. The document "An Open Letter on Digital
Telephony" is currently circulating the Internet.
VTW has also prepared an FAQ for Digital Telephony.
Point your gopher to panix.com (port 70) and check
under the VTW main menu entry, or use the URL:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
NEW YORK, NY -- 08/22/94 -- Contrary to popular belief, not all online
civil libertarians support the Government's attempts to ensure the FBI can
wiretap every citizen. Voter's Telecommunications Watch (VTW), a New
York-based online activism group, working in conjunction with the
Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and other privacy advocates,
is working to energize and focus the grassroots opposition to the recently
introduced Leahy-Edwards Digital Telephony Bill (H.R. 4922, S. 2375).
The Digital Telephony Bill would require telecommunications
service providers to design all their equipment to allow FBI agents and
other government officials to wiretap any telephone conversation -- only
if there is a court order permitting it, of course, the FBI promises.
Adding this feature to the telecommunications system is costly -- so
costly that the bill appropriates $500 million taxpayer dollars to
reimburse phone companies for their "reasonable" expenses. "It's
objectionable for the FBI to try to make us pay for invading our own
privacy," says Alexis Rosen, co-founder of Public Access Networks
Corporation, a regional public Internet provider.
According to FBI Director Louis Freeh, there were 183 wiretaps in 1993
that would have been facilitated by the digital telephony mandates.
"Should we really spend half a billion dollars for a couple of hundred
wiretaps that compromise the privacy of two hundred million Americans?"
asks Simona Nass, President of the Society for Electronic Access, a New
York-based organization devoted to issues of civil liberties and public
VTW is spearheading a drive to defeat the bill. Using the Internet
to keep millions of electronically-connected citizens informed, VTW
workers have put together summaries and analyses of the legislation and
are tracking the bill's movements through the byzantine halls of Congress.
Using this informations, citizens can inundate their representatives at
optimum moments. VTW is tracking each influential legislators' position on
the Digital Telephony initiative, and periodically publishes a scorecard
summary of their positions, party, districts and contact information.
To access VTW's anti-Digital Telephony effort, join the VTW
electronic mailing list by sending Internet e-mail to
vtw-list-request -at- panix -dot- com -dot- Information is also available via Internet
Gopher in the VTW area of gopher.panix.com (port 70). For further
information, contact Steven Cherry at 718-596-2851.
PRESS CONTACT: Steven Cherry
(718) 596-2851(voice mail)
stc -at- acm -dot- org (electronic mail)
SAMPLE LETTER TO THE EDITOR
[Note, this is Steven Cherry's "Open Letter" on Digital Telephony. Please
do not submit it to the New York Times. -Shabbir]
An Open Letter Regarding Digital Telephony
Digital Telephony, embodied in bills entered into Congress by Sen.
Leahy (S.B. 2375) and Rep. Edwards (HR. 4922), would require that
telecommunications carriers alter their equipment so as to allow
wiretaps and similar surveillance to be performed at the companies'
offices, or the offices of law enforcement. In a word, to make
telecommunications equipment, "wiretap friendly"; to make a wiretap
order executable "at the press of a button."
With the help of some civil liberties activists, the bill admirably
distinguishes between common carriers and information services. Only
the former are subject to its provisions. But the distinction, while
clear in the abstract, is hard to make in practice. The mom-and-pop
neighborhood bulletin board service or Internet provider is excluded,
but even if it is providing store-and-forward message-passing
for an individual or other small provider?
Indeed, the very definition of common carrier in the proposed
legislation is problematic, as the definition relies on that used
in the Communications Act of 1934, when just now that Act is being
overhauled finally, after sixty years.
The bill's authors have sensibly and cleverly left out of the
legislation all the details of implementation. It is impossible to
object to the bill on the grounds of being unworkable. It is also
difficult to object on grounds of the risks to individual privacy,
insofar as the risks are largely unquantifiable by virtue of being
The very clever lack of any practical detail, however, leads the
prudent citizen to question the public expenditure of $500,000,000
-- the figure is likely far too high, or far too low. Indeed, all we
know is it is unlikely to be correct, and we therefore object to it as
being unrealistic to the needs of the enterprise. In point of fact,
one other thing is known about this figure -- it is but a fraction
of the total expenditures resulting from the mandates of the bill.
The balance will be borne by the common carriers, who, in turn, will
either have to raise rates, reduce services, or restrict investment
and expansion of their business at the very moment in the history
of telecommunications that calls for them to do just the opposite.
Indeed, the very forces of technological change that caused law
enforcement to request this bill demand that it be defeated.
We would like to return to the issue of increased risks for a
moment. While unquantifiable, they are equally undeniable. The more
facile the system, the more it will be overused and error-ridden.
We must of course balance risk with reward. Who would refuse an
extra paycheck for fear of getting a papercut? We must ask, what are
the rewards of digital telephony?
The FBI Director has variously stated the number of cases where a
wiretapping was subverted by a digital switch or signal, offering
contradictory figures from a low of 80 to a high of 183. The
Director has not said all of them, or even any of them, were cases
where a conviction was not obtained, or where a conviction could
have been obtained with the wiretap, or could only have been
attained with a wiretap. Of course, only these last possible
instances really lend any justification to digital telephony.
It is quite clear that digital technology offers more challenges to
law enforcement than digital switches and signals. The object of a
wiretap can easily use unbreakable encryption to protect the privacy
of his or her communications. While the transmission of a message
would be intercepted, the content would still evade the eyes and
ears of law enforcement. Indeed, any, or all, of these 80 or 183
cases could have been subsequently frustrated by encryption even had
digital telephony solved the initial digital barrier.
Let us state the potential rewards as generously as possible -- or
even more generously than possible. There were approximately 1000
wiretaps in 1993. Let us imagine, contrary to actual fact, all of
these to be subverted by digital technology. Let us imagine the
number to double in coming years. (Any or all of which could remain
private through encryption.) 2000 cases. Weighed against these are
the 200 million Americans whose security and privacy are compromised
by digital telephony.
Well, what if the number of wiretaps doubles again, and again and
again? Don't 20,000 or 30,000 wiretaps, hypothetically, justify?
Perhaps. But what kind of society needs so many police listening in
on the private lives of so many people? At what point do we regret
the lack of a public policy debate on mass wiretapping of the
We do not live in a police state nor will we. And so we are back to
supposing a massive technological effort at great expense to achieve
a modest wiretapping program of small, perhaps almost nonexistent,
To sum up, it is as if the entire city of population 25,000, were to
have its telephone system restructured, its citizen's phone privacy
compromised, all to make effective a wiretap on a single alleged drug
peddler or gangster, which wiretap may or may not help in convicting
the offender, if indeed he or she is guilty. All at a cost of $62,500
to the taxpayers, and more to the local telephone companies and their
For all these reasons, the unclarity, the expense, the risks to
privacy, and the lack of substantive benefits, separately and
together, we oppose this bill.
Steven Cherry stc -at- acm -dot- org
The Voters Telecomm Watch is a volunteer organization dedicated to
monitoring federal legislation that affects telecommunications and
civil liberties. We are based primarily out of New York, though we
have volunteers throughout the US.
Voters Telecomm Watch keeps scorecards on legislators' positions on
legislation that affects telecommunications and civil liberties.
If you have updates to a legislator's positions, from either:
-reply letters from the legislator,
-stated positions from their office,
please contact vtw -at- vtw -dot- org so they can be added to this list.
Voice mail: (718) 596-2851
General questions: vtw -at- vtw -dot- org
Mailing List Requests: vtw-list-request -at- vtw -dot- org
Press Contact: stc -at- vtw -dot- org
Gopher URL: gopher://gopher.panix.com:70/11/vtw
WWW URL: We're working on it. :-)
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Marla Dinchak Glendale Community College
Department of English 6000 West Olive Avenue
207 -at- gcef -dot- gc -dot- maricopa -dot- edu Glendale, Arizona 85302
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