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Hastings Communications and Entertainment Law Journal

Abstract

This Note examines what began as a very common-sense idea: law enforcement's surveillance capabilities needed to be protected in the face of new, high technology communications devices that were making law enforcement's task much more difficult, if not impossible. This was the primary motivation behind the passage of the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act of 1994.

As the compliance date fot the Act draws nearer, many issues are still open to fierce debate between the Federal Bureau Of Investigation, the telecommunications industry and privacy rights advocates. The telecommunications industry claims that the FBI is demanding capacity and technological standards that are beyond the scope of the Act, and beyond their capabilities. Privacy rights advocates are frustrated by FBI attempts to set new capabilities for surveillance that go far beyond what the Act intended, and very probably go beyond what is allowed by the Fourth Amendment.

The author notes that while it is a common-sense idea to preserve law enforcement's surveillance capabilities in the era of cellular communications, the FBI has taken the opportunity of using its power over the standard setting process to make demands outside of the Act to further its capabilities. The author concludes that Congress and the FCC need to intervene in the process to protect our Fourth Amendment rights, and to minimize the burden being placed on the telecommunications industry by the FBI's outlandish demands.

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