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TUCoPS :: Hardware Hacks :: wt.txt

Wire Tapping






Subject: Wiretap loophole concerns.
From: the tty of Geoffrey S. Goodfellow <Geoff @ SRI-CSL>


TAP 2takes (EXCLUSIVE: 10 p.m. EST Embargo) A
Loophole Raises Concern About Privacy in Computer Age By DAVID BURNHAM
c. N.Y. Times News Service
    WASHINGTON - Telecommunications experts are expressing concern 
that the federal wiretap law does not make it a crime for anyone, 
whether private citizen, law enforcement officer or foreign spy, to 
intercept the millions of messages transmitted around the United 
States each day by computer.
    The experts, who are in Congress, the American Telephone and 
Telegraph Co., and the American Civil Liberties Union, say the 
importance of the loophole in the 1968 law has been greatly magnified 
in recent years with the increasing use of computers for storing and 
transmitting personal, business, and government information.
    Three congressional panels are considering whether the law should 
be rewritten to reflect the computer
n, both in 
Congress and among the experts, is whether the loophole gives local, 
state, and federal law enforcement officers an opportunity to conduct 
computerized electronic surveillance without the court approval 
required for wiretaps.
    There is no evidence of widespread exploitation of the law by 
officers. But John Shattock, director of the national office of the 
civil liberties union, said: "The issue here is the privacy of 
communications against secret government surveillance. The threat here
truly is Big Brother, not a group of little kids."
    Some fear that any change in the current law, unless it is done 
carefully, could inadvertently increase or decrease the power of law 
enforcement officers.
    The wiretap law forbids the monitoring of conversations except for
law enforcement officers who have obtained a warrant from a judge. In 
the age of the computer, however, more and more messages, including 
those expressed by the human voice, are broken do
 
bits" in their transmission.
    But because of the way the 1968 law is written, the interception 
of these bits is not a crime and the police are free to intercept them
without warrants.
    Most electronic surveillance is passive, making it impossible to 
measure how much the loophole is being exploited, whether by the 
authorities, by industrial spies, by organized crime figures trying to
make a killing in the stock market, by international spies seeking 
government data, or by curious individuals with a personal computer.
    But in recent months a number of computerized data banks in 
government and industry have become the targets of long-distance 
telephone attacks by amateur computer experts working from their home 
computers. In addition, indictments have charged foreign computer 
concerns with attempting to purchase sensitive details about the 
products of American companies.
    More seriously, p1years ago the Carter 
administration announced that it bel
Union was using 
antennas believed to have been set up on its grounds in Washington, 
New York, and San Francisco to intercept digital information being 
transmitted in microwaves by businesses and government agencies.
    The Carter administration took limited technical steps to prevent 
the Russians from obtaining sensitive government data and ordered the 
National Security Agency to help private corporations improve their 
security. But it never took any formal legal action against the 
Russians or formally asked Congress to amend the law.
    H.W. William Caming oversees privacy and corporate security 
matters at AT&T. "As we enter the year made famous by George Orwell's
book, 'Nineteen-Eighty-four,' computer crime is on the rise and may 
well constitute a major crime threat of the 1980s," he said in a 
recent interview. "We therefore are encouraged by and vigorously 
support current efforts in Congress and the states to enact suitable 
legislation concerning compute
ieve that such 
legislation should include provisions making it a crime to secretly 
intercept non-voice communications."
    AT&T is not the only company concerned about the wiretap law. In 
response to an inquiry, Satellite Business Systems, a major new data 
communications company jointly owned by International Business 
Machines, the Aetna Life and Casualty Co., and Comsat, agreed that 
some experts believed there was a "potential loophole" in current 
law and that, to the extent this was so, "legislation to make clear 
that such unauthorized interception is prohibited would be useful."
    The 1968 wiretap law makes it a federal felony for a third party 
to intercept the conversations of others by placing an electronic 
listening device, or a "bug," in a telephone or other place such as 
an office.
    The only exception is that federal, state, and local law 
enforcement officers may use wiretaps in the investigation of certain 
crimes but only with the approval of
ecutor of a 
particular jurisdiction and a special warrant from a judge.
    The law does not apply to computer tapping 
                                                            
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