There are several points to clarify in the April 1 report on the Electronic Privacy Information Center's campaign to squelch funding for the FBI wiretap plan.

First, we do not object to court-authorized wiretaps. We oppose the effort to require that such wiretaps be made easy. There is nothing in the Constitution or the original federal wiretap law that created such an obligation. The reason is obvious. The Fourth Amendment is intended to protect the public from abuse by government, not to coerce the public to make the work of the government easy.

Second, we do not accept the FBI's contention that digital technologies have frustrated law enforcement investigations. Wiretapping in the United States is at an all-time high. Law enforcement also routinely searches through telephone records in electronic form, a process made far easier as a result of the growth of digital networks. Cellular phones are easily overheard, and remote monitoring technologies are vastly improved.

It's therefore no surprise that in a series of documents obtained by EPIC under the Freedom of Information Act, FBI field offices repeatedly responded ``no problems encountered'' when queried about the impact of new technologies by FBI headquarters.

Third, the wiretap bill is cut of the same cloth as the Clipper proposal. Both proposals were developed by the same federal agencies with the same goal. Both seek the holy grail of absolute surveillance, an aim the U.S. government has never previously pursued.

Fourth, it is almost inconceivable that in this era of dramatic budget cuts and down-sizing of federal services, the Congress should appropriate such a staggering sum of money to fund an untested, widely criticized, inherently flawed proposal for surveillance of the nation's communications infrastructure. One does not have to be a strong believer in privacy or civil liberties to see the folly behind this plan.

Readers interested in learning more about the wiretap bill may send e-mail to wiretap@epic.org.

-- Marc Rotenberg

Director, Electronic Privacy

Information Center

Published 4/09/95 in the San Jose Mercury News.

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