04:31 PM ET 01/14/97 FBI announces needs for wiretap capacity By Ellen Wulfhorst NEW YORK (Reuter) - The FBI said Tuesday that the nation's telephone system must be capable of carrying almost 60,000 wiretaps and phone traces simultaneously in order for law enforcement agencies to fight crime. Determining the capacity needed for surveillance comes under the mandate of a 1994 federal law requiring telephone companies to ensure that their systems can accommodate the needs of law enforcement agencies, said James Kallstrom, head of the FBI's New York City office, at a news conference. ``It's designed to tell companies how much capacity they need to build into their telephone systems so (that) if a bomb goes off or there's a terrorist attack, we can respond,'' he said. Determining the capacity by law is necessary because new, sophisticated telephone systems, made possible by digital technology, can make surveillance such as court-orderd wiretaps nearly impossible, he said. In the latest technology, thousands of conversations now are carried at one time and under this law, telephone companies must have the ability to single out an individual conversation if necessary, he said. Kallstrom stressed that the capacity needs do not mean authorities plan to conduct that much surveillance, nor do they have any new powers to do so. Specifically, after October 1998, the nation's telephone system must be able to carry 57,749 wiretaps or traces on any given day. The FBI calculated the single busiest surveillance day in every county and wireless service area from Jan. 1, 1993 to March 1, 1995, and factored in growth trends, he said. Kallstrom said the capacity needs could be regarded as a kind of insurance, and that the amount of surveillance actually conducted will be determined by the amount of crime. ``We're not doing 57,000 wiretaps, I can guarantee you that. Nor does my fire department anticipate three fires on my street, but there's three hydrants,'' he said, adding, ``Try to get house insurance without those, and try to fight crime without this.'' Law enforcement agencies conduct about 900 wiretaps each year, Kallstrom said. An official with the American Civil Liberties Union said the agency's ability to tap telephones is a cause for concern. ``For every phone that is tapped, there are over a thousand innocent interceptions,'' said Laura Murphy, director of the ACLU's Washington office. She said that because telephone technology is getting less precise, ``it's more likely that innocent conversations are being intercepted. True, they're not supposed to use those conversations, but sometimes it's going to be hard to resist so you'll never know when the government is going to be listening in.'' This surveillance includes pen registers, which record the numbers dialed in an outgoing call; traps and traces that identify the phone number and location of an incoming call, and wiretaps that capture a conversation or data on a phone. The FBI unsealed court orders in every county in the nation and surveyed about 1,500 telephone companies over a two-year period, Kallstrom said. Ten percent of the surveillance they found was wiretaps, and 90 percent was pen registers and traps and traces. In the past 14 years, surveillance has been responsible for convictions of more than 26,000 felons, he said. The costs are to be borne by the telephone companies, Kallstrom said. The FBI did not offer an estimated cost.