n May 19, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) unanimously ruled that companies that offer telephone service over the Internet must provide their customers with enhanced 911 (E-911) emergency service. The FCC action follows several high-profile cases in which users of Internet telephones dialed 911 in an emergency but were unable to reach an operator.
Internet phone service, known as Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), uses computers and broadband connections to convert sounds into data and transmit them via the Internet. Unlike traditional phones, which have a fixed address that a 911 operator can quickly call up, Internet phone service can be mobile.
The FCC order gives companies 120 days to certify that their customers will be able to reach an emergency dispatcher when they call 911. In addition, dispatchers must be able to tell where callers are located and the numbers from which they are calling.
It also requires local phone companies to provide access to their E-911 networks, which enables emergency operators to identify the location and telephone number of the caller, to any telecommunications carrier.
Under the order, carriers must provide a way for customers to update their location and callback numbers when they travel. Failure to update that information would cause an emergency operator to assume the call was coming from the last registered location.
It also requires carriers to explain to their customers the capabilities and limitations of the emergency response service they are getting with their Internet phones. Connection to a 911 operator, for example, would not be possible for an Internet telephone customer if there were a power failure or loss of Internet connection.
The IACP has been concerned about 911 access for Internet-based phones. The public has an expectation that telephone services will provide E-911 capability, which includes caller location information, regardless whether the telephone operates via wire lines, wireless, or Internet networks.
House Passes Antigang Bill
On May 11, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill (H.R. 1279) that would increase federal law enforcement's role in combating gang violence. The bill seeks to address gang violence by applying the methods used to fight organized crime.
It would make it a federal crime, punishable by lengthy mandatory minimum prison sentences, to participate in a "criminal street gang," which is defined as three or more people who cooperate to commit two or more "gang crimes," one of which is a crime of violence, in two or more separate episodes.
Those crimes would include violations of existing federal or state laws against such acts as murder, kidnapping, sexual assault, burglary, intimidation of witnesses, and possession or distribution of narcotics, as well as federal laws against possession of false identification documents and money laundering.
Several categories of gang-related offenses would be subject to mandatory minimum sentences of at least 30 years in prison. These mandatory minimums have been criticized by House Democrats who argue they take away discretion of federal judges to set penalties based on the specific circumstances of the case.
The bill would authorize $387 million to fund new interagency antigang law enforcement teams, hire additional federal and state prosecutors, and purchase technology to help identify gang defendants. It would also create a criminal street gang enforcement team consisting of agents from federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies and prosecutors.
During floor consideration, lawmakers adopted several amendments that would establish a National Gang Intelligence Center at the FBI; fund regional databases to track gangs in high-intensity gang areas; add Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives agents and inspectors to high-intensity gang areas; and authorize the attorney general to conduct a media campaign to inform the public about the new mandatory minimum prison sentences.
Lawmakers also approved an amendment to add five years to prison sentences for violent and drug-trafficking crimes when the violator is an illegal alien, and 15 years if the defendant had previously been deported for a criminal offense. In addition, the House passed an amendment that requires the Department of Homeland Security to conduct a study of the connection between illegal aliens and gang membership.
The bill now moves to the Senate, where its future is uncertain. Last year, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed a bipartisan antigang bill that its sponsors had been pushing for more than 10 years. Senators Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Dianne Feinstein (D-California) have reintroduced the bill (S. 155), but the Judiciary Committee has not yet considered it.
Like the House bill, it makes it a federal crime to participate in a "criminal street gang." In addition, it would make recruiting minors to join criminal street gangs a crime and require offenders to pay the costs associated with housing and treating any recruited minor who is prosecuted for their gang activity.
Most notably, the Senate version does not contain the mandatory minimum sentences. It also authorizes nearly two-thirds more in expenditures ($762 million) and directs money for a wider range of antigang initiatives, including prevention programs and witness protection. It also would permit wiretaps to be used for new gang crimes.
However, during consideration of the bill by the House Judiciary Committee, committee members rejected a bipartisan alternative bill (H.R. 970) that is similar to the Senate bill. ■