FBI plans systems upgrade--legislators and civil liberties activists alarmed

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FBI plans systems upgrade--legislators and civil liberties activists alarmed

April 6, 2000


WASHINGTON--In response to growing concerns about terrorism, hackers and other high-tech criminals, the Federal Bureau of Investigation is planning a series of sophisticated computer systems that would sharply increase agents' ability to gather and analyze information.

The FBI is seeking more than $75 million in budget appropriations to continue a massive information technology expansion, which includes a system dubbed "Digital Storm" that eases the court-sanctioned collection and electronic sifting of traffic on telephones and cellular phones.

Another proposed system would create "the foundation for an up-to-date, flexible digital collection infrastructure" for wiretaps under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. A third initiative would develop an "enterprise database" that would enable agents to analyze huge amounts of data and share them via a secure World Wide Web-style network. The bureau also has formed a privacy council to review the use of data and protect against unwarranted intrusions into innocent Americans' lives.

FBI officials said the bureau's information technology systems are aging and need to be updated to keep pace with criminal activities, both on the Internet and offline.

"Our crimes that we're investigating today have a much more national and global scale," said Deputy Assistant Director Edward Allen.

The proposals follow a series of bureau initiatives in recent years to gain more authority to conduct wiretaps, crack encrypted documents and subpoena computer-related information.

"The [information technology] demanded of this plan presently does not exist within the FBI, but is at the core of activities to be implemented," the budget documents state.

But civil liberties activists, legislators and legal specialists are alarmed that the bureau's proposals could erode constitutional protections that limit government searches, with almost no discussion to date about the implications on Capitol Hill. The initiatives apparently would not require an expansion of FBI powers under existing law. Critics say the linking of scattered information would lead to a huge increase in data collection and analysis.


-- Carl Jenkins (Somewherepress@aol.com), April 06, 2000

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