Cable wiretap bills connect

Oct 8, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Two House panels passed bills last week that make it easier for the federal government to wiretap customers of cable broadband and cable-delivered phone service.
Both the House Commerce and House Judiciary committees approved measures clarifying that cable companies are not required to notify these customers when the federal government monitors and intercepts their communications.
U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft requested the clarification as part of the Bush administration’s larger anti-terrorism legislative wish list.
The bills enable federal authorities to conduct wiretaps on cable services similar to the way it does on noncable telephone and Internet systems.
The cable industry says that conflicting wiretapping laws already on the books are unclear on whether customer notification is necessary in these situations.
As a result, some cable companies had been balking at complying with court-ordered wiretaps.
However, the bill, emphasizes that cable and other video service providers must continue to notify subscribers when the government wants to monitor their viewing habits.
Those customers are given 90 days to contest such practices.
Sources emphasized that court orders would still be required for all these surveillance activities.
Discussing the cable wiretap measure, House Commerce Chairman Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., said, “The bill ensures that law enforcement officials have the same ability to gain access to cable subscriber Internet and telephony information as they do with conventional telephone service.”
The House Judiciary provisions are part of a comprehensive anti-terrorism bill approved unanimously by the panel on Oct. 3. The House Commerce measure may be melded into that bill.
The Judiciary bill moves to the lower chamber this week for a vote, possibly on Tuesday or Wednesday.
At deadline, the Senate Judiciary Committee was putting the finishing touches on its anti-terrorism bill, which is expected to move to the Senate floor soon. But it was unclear whether the cable provisions are part of it.