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Rapid advances in communications are eroding police departments’ abilities to conduct wiretaps, and Congress needs to take steps to ensure that new telephone, computer and wireless systems are designed to allow lawful police access, FBI and police officials told Congress Thursday.

But other witnesses cautioned that any such move could stifle innovation, place U.S. technology companies at a competitive disadvantage and unintentionally create systems vulnerable to hackers, criminals and terrorists.
At issue is the diminished capability of law enforcement agencies to conduct quick wiretaps in an age of Twitter accounts, Facebook and MySpace pages, BlackBerrys, Androids, iPhones and iPads. The Justice Department calls the phenomenon “going dark.”

In testimony before a House Judiciary subcommittee, FBI General Counsel Valerie Caproni said it is “exponentially more difficult” to execute court-authorized wiretaps on new technology, noting that criminals can now communicate using wireless devices and anonymous avatars.

Caproni said the FBI is not seeking additional authority to conduct wiretaps, but rather is looking for solutions to technical problems the agency encounters in conducting court-authorized intercepts. The Obama administration currently has no proposal to increase the technological ease of wiretapping, she said, but she added that one may be coming soon.

A 1994 law, the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, required telephone companies to build in the means to conduct intercepts. But the law was designed to keep pace with changes in telecommunications, not in internet-based communications services, and is now antiquated, she said.

Source: Mike M. Ahlers and Jeanne Meserve for CNN.

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