Wiretaps Essay, Research Paper
INTRODUCTION Imagine you’re talking on your telephone. It’s something that everyone takes for granted. Now imagine that the police are listening to every phone conversation that you make. Does that scare you? I know that it scares me. Wiretaps are an issue that effects every person in this country. That’s because no matter how much we don’t like to admit it, we need depend on telephone services more and more as time passes. The issue of telephone privacy becomes bigger and bigger every day as our telephone technology becomes more advanced. Wire taps are devices that are being used more often by law enforcement agencies to capture criminals, but there does come time when the actions of law enforcement agencies aren’t only protecting the public, they are overstepping their boundaries and intruding into people’s private lives. This article is going to help you understand what wiretaps are and how they can effect you. It discusses the laws involved with wiretapping and how these laws can effect the privacy of the people who are under surveillance. It also discusses the problems that legislation for wiretaps poses to the phone companies. The costs and effectiveness of wiretaps are also issues to be discussed in this article. I feel that law enforcement agencies have indeed overstepped their boundaries and delved into the private lives of America’s citizens, and that new legislation could even aid to the problem and make it even bigger than it already is. REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE Law Issues In the technological world that we live in today, there is no question that wiretaps are a necessary tool for law enforcement officers in capturing criminals of the twenty-first century. Today, law enforcement officials are trying to keep up with new advances in the phone service industry. In fact, the director of the FBI, Louis Freeh has testified in hearings for passing new bills, “that court authorized electronic surveillance is a critical law enforcement and public safety tool” (Edwards and Boucher). As everyone knows, there have been many changes in phone services in the past few years, and there will be many to come in the future. These are phone services that criminals utilize to help them organize criminal tasks. According to Don Edwards, former representative of California and Rick Boucher, Virginia Representative, there are a wide variety of services that law enforcement officials want to monitor to use against criminals. These include things such as cellular phones, personal communication networks, the newer generation of cordless phones, wireless modems, wireless local area networks, and electronic mail and messaging. The government has made a statement concerning their goals for such electronic monitoring. Government officials said that they want the ability to intercept communications involving advanced technologies such as digital or wireless transmission modes, or features and services such as call forwarding, speed dialing, and conference calling, while protecting the privacy of communications and without impeding the introduction of new technologies, features, and services (Edwards and Boucher). A committee made up the General Accounting office, the FBI, and the telecommunications industry has all reached a conclusion about a need for wiretaps in law enforcement. What’s more, Chris Stamper, writer for ABCNews.com says that supporters of such laws maintain that such a change is necessary to keep up with exploding technology. These wiretap supporters said that there is sufficient evidence justifying legislative action that new and emerging telecommunications technologies pose problems for law enforcement (Edwards and Boucher). Chris Stamper says that supporters of such bills say this will help the cops keep up with cell-phone wielding crooks. However, critics contend that it opens up the door forever more invasions of privacy. Privacy Issues There are at least two sides to every controversy, and the issue of wiretaps definitely brings more than two sides to mind. However, the two main arguments that have to do with wiretaps have to do with protection and privacy. The privacy issue has been escalating more and more in the past few years. “The government has been asking for more wiretapping authority than it ever has before,” explained Shari Steele, director of legal services for the EEF (”electronic privacy”). Steele states, “Just as more of our communications are becoming digital, law enforcement is getting even greater access. Whatever privacy balance we may have achieved in the past is completely decimated due to the interpretation of new legislation.” Wiretaps have been used in the past to catch criminals, but now the government is pushing for legislation to be able to tap any phone that they think is being used in criminal activity. They call this method a roving wiretap. According to Chris Stamper, Greg Nojeim, member of the American Civil Liberty Union council, argues that since roving wiretaps will be easier to obtain, citizens’ Fourth Amendment rights protecting against illegal searches will erode. “We are now at a historic crossroad,” says Barry Steinhardt, Associate Director of the American Civil Liberties Union, “we can use emerging technologies to protect our personal privacy, or we can succumb to scare tactics and to exaggerated claims about the law enforcement value of electronic surveillance and give up our cherished rights, perhaps – forever (”Groups”).” Wiretap issues have posed a threat to privacy since 1968 due to technological advances. Congress even made a statement about privacy back then. According to the 1968 report, “the tremendous scientific and technological developments that have taken place in the last century have made it possible for widespread use and abuse of electronic surveillance techniques. As a result of these developments, privacy of communication is seriously jeopardized by the techniques of surveillance (”Groups”).” Since there was so much controversy about the subject in 1968, you can only imagine the concern that people have about their privacy today. One huge privacy issue is based in the tracking of cell phones. Today’s surveillance technology now allows the tracking of cell-phone locations when the phones are turned on. Will Rodger, writer for Interactive Week, says that the Telephone Industry Association has rejected FBI proposals, which would give them access to the location information gleaned form cellular phone calls. Rodger also says that the tracking information gathered from cellular phones would turn the phones into “homing beacons” whenever they are turned on and that gathering such information while calls were not taking place would overstep the law’s intent. Leslie Hagin, legislative director of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, echoes the sentiments of many criminal defense attorneys and civil libertarians who feel that the expansion of powers is an invitation to abuse: “It’s not a power the government needs”(Stamper). There is much legislation being proposed that is requiring stricter court orders to obtain certain wiretaps. Conversely, Gregory Nicolaysen, founder of the Association of Federal Defense Attorneys, complains that too many judges rubber-stamp wiretapping requests and that the new laws will only make the situation worse: “The assumption is that those who are being wiretapped are criminals anyway” (Stamper). The courts have denied only 28 applications for wiretaps since they became legal in 1968 (Stamper). Right now, the government can obtain transaction logs containing a person’s entire on-line profile just getting a subpoena from an investigator (Edwards and Boucher). For the people who use online services more and more, this data reveals a great deal about their private lives, and all of it can be collected form one place (Edwards and Boucher). The FBI can also tap into private network systems according to Edwards and Boucher; this gives them access to things such as AOL accounts and even ATM’s. All in all, David L. Sobel the Electronic Protection Information Center’s General Counsel says, “The FBI is seeking surveillance capabilities that far exceed the powers law enforcement has had in the past and is entitled to under the law. It is disappointing that the Federal Communications Council resolved this issue in favor of police powers and against privacy” (Edwards and Boucher). If the FBI has it’s way, the only communications medium invulnerable to government snooping will consist of two soup cans and some string – and even then, I’d be careful,” said Barry Steinhardt (”Electronic Privacy”). Telephone Companies Cooperation The cooperation of the telephone companies plays an essential role in the laws that have to do with wiretapping. The telephone industry has always worked with the law enforcement agencies in the past. However, with the new services being offered and the amount of companies today, a company-by-company approach is not likely to be very successful (Edwards and Boucher). One main concern of the government and the phone companies is that these new laws don’t slow the rapid development and launching of the new services and technologies that are continuing to benefit and revolutionize our society (Edwards and Boucher). The telephone industry does realize that there will be more and more problems for law enforcement interception. These problems are being posed by the new technologies and the competitiveness of the telephone market today (Edwards and Boucher). Roy Neel, president of the United States Telephone Association and the chief spokesperson for the telephone industry on the issue, was asked by Senator Leahy if the time was fast approaching when a great deal of the ability of the law enforcement to carry out wiretaps will be lost. Mr. Neel answered, “In a number of cases with new enhanced services, that is probably true (Edwards and Boucher).” New bills require the Attorney General to estimate the needs of law enforcement for electronic surveillance (Edwards and Boucher). New bills require the government to reimburse the phone companies for reasonable costs of the growing needs from law enforcement. Cellular companies are also being pressured by the government for the tracking of cell phones and the tapping of their lines. However it is difficult for even the phone companies to listen to a phone conversation if the phone is being used out of area. However, tracking has become the biggest issue when it comes to cellular phones. According to an article in Washington Online magazine by Bill Munro: The difficulty has nothing to do with money, said Ron Nessen, chief spokesperson for the Cellular Telephone Industry Association. The FBI wants to track the location of cellular phones to find criminals, yet the law does not require companies to install the tracking equipment in phones, he said. Installing it without a congressional requirement would expose cell phone companies to expensive lawsuits. ‘If your client was found by the FBI and was caught by this tracking technology, and it is not in the law, you’d damned well sue’ the telephone companies. Whether people believe that the new bills represent an imposition on the phone companies or not, it seems to be evident that criminals won’t be able to escape to their cell phones much longer without the fear of being overheard (Stamper). Munro says that the money will also persuade the Cellular Telephone Industry Association to reverse its opposition to the FBI’s plans for tracking the location of these mobile phones. “I would assume that they will all sell out to the government sooner of later” (Munro). All in all, both land phone companies and cell phone companies are being propositioned by the government cooperation with wiretaps. It appears that the government is willing to pay for such services, and the government’s money will be enough to win the cooperation of these companies. This also means that for all of the new services that are designed and manufactured, wiretapping capabilities must be assured for the government (Edwards and Boucher). Cost The costs of these wiretaps are also a huge issue in the arguments that have to do with law enforcement wiretaps. All of the new bills dealing with wiretaps that are in the works state that all of the reasonable costs incurred by the phone companies would be paid by the federal government (Edwards and Boucher). However, these modifications can’t start without the help of the federal government because without the funding, the phone companies can’t modify their systems to help out the FBI (Munro). In Bill Munro’s article for Inside Washington, he had statements from telephone company officials about the current situation. ‘We’ve never opposed funding because we are the recipients of such funding,’ said one industry official. However, ‘there’s no commercial value to it’ because the money flows through the telephone companies to the companies that produce and modify the electronic switching gear, he said. The phone companies have now come up with a plan that they believe to be fair. Their compromise is that the government should pay for all of the installation of such devices and should be handled by the government (Edwards and Boucher). One thing that should be noted is the fact that these costs paid by the government with taxpayers’ money are not cheap. Leonidas R. Mecham, Director of the Administrative office of the United States Courts agrees that these wiretaps are expensive. According to his records, there were 1,232 intercept orders in 1999 for which costs were reported and the average cost per order was $57,511. While the average cost of a federal wiretap order cost $73,616 per order. With cooperation from the phone companies, the costs of these wiretaps is likely to go down after all the proper devices are installed, but the cost to keep up with new technology will be tremendous. I think that it is the responsibility of the government to pay for all of these outrageous costs, but I do think that the money could go toward more important things in our country. Summary In summary, wiretaps are a tool that is essential to law enforcement officials. However, there are major privacy issues at hand in reference to keeping the authorities out of the private lives of this nation’s citizens. Privacy the most controversial issue when wiretaps happen to be the conversation topic. However, the cooperation of the phone companies is also an issue. New wiretapping laws could also infringe on the rights of telephone companies by slowing the rate that new services are being released. The phone companies also have an issue of money from the government to contend with. Lastly, the cost and effectiveness of wiretaps are also issues that are still up in the air as far as new legislation is concerned. CONCLUSION AND FURTHER RESEARCH Throughout the course of my research, I came to a few conclusions. The main conclusion has to do with compromise. That is, if anything is to be done about the problems of wiretapping, a compromise must be made. Not with just two of the groups involved, but with all three of the concerned parties. Not only must the law enforcement officers be satisfied with an agreement, but the telephone companies and the privacy protection advocates must also be happy. It is essential that we provide essential means for law enforcement agencies to successfully tap the wires of criminals, and it is also key that the phone companies aren’t impeded in their ability to put out new services to the public. A compromise must also be found with the advocates for privacy. I believe that a balance of power between these three main interest groups will force each other to keep the other ones honest. However, right now I ma most worried about the law enforcement officers abusing the power that they have and overstepping the bounds of law enforcement and into the realm of citizens’ privacy. Although, I do believe that a compromise can and will be made in the future. There are still questions that need to be answered on the subject and they are definitely subject to further research. One question deals with where the costs will actually be covered. Will they be covered by the government, or should they be assumed by the telephone companies, equipment manufacturers and providers of service, or some combination of all of the above. Another question deals within the realm of privacy. We must be sure that the government isn’t reaching into the privacy of its citizens. How can we monitor their wiretapping activities? We must also figure out a solution to make sure that the Phone Company does not abuse government funds to upgrade their own systems. This could definitely be a real problem in the future. Lastly, we need to ensure that whatever payment method is selected, it must be neutral to all of the phone companies. The plan must have a minimum effect on the deployment of an advanced telecommunications network and minimum adverse effect on telephone rates.
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