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Secret Service wants software vendor for its wiretaps, ‘pen registers’ and ‘trap & trace’ devices

Screen shots from
Pen-Link Ltd

In an effort to manage its wire taps, “pen registers,” “trap & trace devices” and other forms of electronic communications intercepts, the U.S. Secret Service is seeking a contractor that can provide the highly specialized software that makes these intercepts possible, along with ancillary support and training.

The Secret Service currently relies on intercept software provided by the incumbent contractor, Pen-Link Ltd, of Lincoln, NE.

“In business for over 20 years, Pen-Link, Ltd. provides Law Enforcement and Intelligence agencies with state-of-the-art software and systems for the collection, storage, and analysis of telephonic- and IP-based communications,” explains that company on its own Web site. “Pen-Link’s software and systems -- Pen-Link 8, LINCOLN, and Xnet -- are widely recognized as industry standards, with thousands of licensed Law Enforcement and Intelligence users in federal, state, and local agencies worldwide. Pen-Link systems are widely favored because they not only excel at intelligence gathering and live collection, but they also bring to bear a powerful suite of reporting and analytical tools; the type of functionality that is essential in drilling down through today’s extensive data sets to reveal relationships that might otherwise go undetected.”

The software tools that the Secret Service plans to procure must adhere to several different U.S. laws, including the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act of 1994, often called CALEA; the Pen/Trap Statute, the Wiretap Statute, and others, said a solicitation issued by the Secret Service on May 15.

The statement of work that outlines the complete technical requirement is being made available only to qualified prospective vendors, said the Secret Service. The one sentence in the public solicitation that describes what the Secret Service is looking for says: “The Government is seeking intercept software solutions involving, but not limited to ‘provider delivered’ Title III content and metadata, ‘probe based’ Title III content and metadata, analytics, minimizations, and evidence preservation.”

Law enforcement agencies typically must comply with a higher standard to obtain a court’s permission to execute a wire tap on an individual or an organization, versus implementing a “pen register” or a “trap & trace device,” explains the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which approaches such communications intercepts by law enforcement with considerable skepticism.

“Pen registers record the phone numbers that you call, while trap & trace devices record the numbers that call you,” explains the Electronic Frontier Foundation on its Web site. “The Supreme Court decided in 1979, in the case of Smith v. Maryland, that because you knowingly expose phone numbers to the phone company when you dial them (you are voluntarily handing over the number so the phone company will connect you, and you know that the numbers you call may be monitored for billing purposes), the Fourth Amendment doesn't protect the privacy of those numbers against pen/trap surveillance by the government. The contents of your telephone conversation are protected, but not the dialing information.”

The Secret Service’s technical security division, which is responsible for receiving, processing and storing the agency’s intercept data, envisions issuing a firm fixed price contract to the chosen software vendor for a base period of one year, plus four additional one-year option periods.

Further information about this solicitation is available from Andrew Baker, of the Secret Service, at 202-406-6830 or [email protected].


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