FBI, DEA and Secret Service argue that next ‘number portability’ administrator must be ready to handle investigations


FBI headquarters in Washington. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

This weekend, our Ellen Nakashima reported that lawmakers, including the chairman and ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, have pressed the Federal Communications Commission to keep national security in mind when the agency considers who will next run the National Portability Administration Center.

The center was created as a result of the 1996 Telecommunications Act's mandates on the transferability of phone numbers in the United States. It keeps tabs on which telephone company provides service for which phone number, which has proven a useful tool in law enforcement investigations. The contract to run NPAC has been Virginia-based Neustar, but Telcordia Technologies, a firm owned by Sweden's Ericsson AB, has been recommended by an FCC advisory committee to take it over.

Now those members of Congress have gotten support from the law enforcement community. The FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Secret Service, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement have weighed in, telling the FCC that they believe that the agency should take into consideration how well any vendor might "satisfy the important law enforcement, public safety, and national security equities" of local and federal authorities.*

The FBI, DEA and Secret Service maintain that they take no position on Telcordia's potential selection in particular. But they highlight some of the sensitivities of using the system in the course of their work. For example, they described a need for confidentiality "so that a potential criminal will not learn that law enforcement is investigating them, which could result in an individual fleeing, destroying vital evidence of their criminal activity, or continuing to compromise national security."

"Reliable and accurate information from the [local number portability administrator] is vital to the day-to-day work of law enforcement agencies," the law enforcement agencies write, "and protects the privacy interests of the public." That filing is here.

*Updated to reflect that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has since joined the other law enforcement agencies on the filing. 

Nancy Scola is a reporter who covers the intersections of technology and public policy, politics, and governance.

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Nancy Scola · August 11, 2014

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