November 2, 1995
Honorable Henry Hyde
Committee on the Judiciary
House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515
Dear Mr. Chairman:
An article published today in The New York Times states that the "FBI wants advanced system to vastly increase wiretapping." That simply is not so.
Court-ordered wiretapping is the single most effective investigative technique used by law enforcement to combat illegal drugs, terrorism, violent crime, espionage and organized crime. The majority of wiretapping is conducted by state and local law enforcement. Last year there were 1,154 wiretap court orders nationwide for all of law enforcement but these court-ordered wiretaps are critical to saving lives and solving the very worst crimes suffered by the public. Moreover, that number is not expected to increase in any significant manner when the law already passed by Congress is fully implemented.
Congress last year overwhelmingly passed legislation to preserve this ability in the face of advancing technology. The law neither expands authority nor ability, it merely maintains the status quo, that is, only maintains the ability of law enforcement to conduct court-ordered electronic surveillance. Without this, the public safety would be severely jeopardized.
The simple facts are:
- Congress last year did not expand the FBI's authority to conduct wiretaps nor did the FBI ask Congress to do so.
- The FBI and the telephone industry are working together -- as the law Congress passed last year requires -- to find reasonable and affordable solutions in the face of advancing technology. The initial public request for comment is part of that process.
- We have not and are not asking for the ability to monitor one out of every 100 telephone lines or any other ridiculous number like that. To obtain that many court orders and conduct that extent of wiretapping would be nearly impossible. Information supplied by the FBI was simply applied in a manner not intended to reach erroneous connclusions.
- Without this law, adequate funding and reasonable technical solutions, the Nation's public safety and national security are unquestionably jeopardized. Merely maintaining without expanding the ability of law enforcement to conduct court-ordered wiretaps is the single most important problem law enforcement faces today.
The new law requires the FBI, on behalf of all of law enforcement, to work with the telephone industry to identify technical design requirements for industry to build into their systems. The public notice mentioned in The Times article is part of that process and we are working with the telephone industry to define workable requirements and reasonable capacities.
Deputy Attorney General Gorelick said this morning: "Let me make it perfectly clear, there is no intention to expand the number of wiretaps or the extent of wiretapping." Those who are using the public comment notice to argue to the contrary are wrong.
Louis J. Freeh