FBI moves ahead with Digital Storm
- By Bryant Jordan
- Dec 10, 2000
A looming deadline and possible presidential veto aren't enough to deter
the Justice Department from a planned $25 million wiretap technology upgrade.
The plan detailing Digital Storm — an FBI program designed to replace
analog wiretap systems with digital ones — probably won't get to budget
appropriators by the Dec. 15 deadline, but officials aren't worried.
"Since there is no finalized budget, we expect those deadlines to change,"
a Justice spokeswoman said.
The bureau says it needs Digital Storm to keep pace with technology.
"A majority of electronic surveillance interceptions are being conducted
with [analog] technology that was developed decades ago," Justice officials
stated in documents supporting their fiscal 2001 budget request.
Old FBI equipment relies on traditional systems, such as large reel-to-reel
recorders. In a typical case, officials explained, agents tap multiple telephone
lines for hours every day for 60 to 90 days. Agents then must review the
tapes and cull information for their case.
With Digital Storm, the bureau intends to develop and deploy computer-based
systems that capture conversations digitally. That would produce better
quality intercepts, Justice officials said, and would enable agents to search
multiple digital records via a network.
Depending on funding — the FBI asked for $75 million — it could take
the bureau until 2010 to replace its 1,290 tape recorder wiretaps with Digital
First, the FBI may have to convince Congress that it can manage another
information technology program. An information sharing initiative — formerly
dubbed eFBI — was stalled until a retired IBM Corp. executive joined the
effort by supervising what is now called a "technology upgrade program."
That program has since received a $100 million budget for 2001.
The bureau also must defend the program against critics concerned about
privacy issues. Some lawmakers and Washington, D.C., watchdog organizations
are concerned that the nation needs better safeguards to protect electronic
privacy before it gives law enforcement agencies more powerful surveillance