RealTime IT News

FCC Stands Firm on VoIP Wiretap Order

WASHINGTON -- The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) stood firm today on its May 2007 deadline for Voice over IP providers to build standardized wiretap backdoors into their systems.

The decision comes only two days before the FCC goes to court to defend its authority to extend the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) to facilities-based broadband and VoIP providers.

"I remain committed to ensuring that these providers take all necessary actions to incorporate surveillance capabilities into their networks in a timely fashion," FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said.

In August of last year, the FCC ruled Internet telephony should be subject to traditional wiretap laws and gave VoIP providers 18 months to comply with its orders.

According to the FCC, CALEA applies to traditional carriers and any "replacement for a substantial portion of the local telephone exchange service."

The FCC decision immediately prompted lawsuits from a number of organizations contending that Congress in 1994 intended CALEA to apply only to traditional telephone services.

"By ensuring that law enforcement authorities have access to the resources CALEA authorizes, this Commission supports efforts to protect the public safety and homeland security of the United States and its people," Commissioner Michael Copps said.

Although Wednesday's order underscores the FCC's commitment to the May 2007 deadline, it also dodged setting any standards for VoIP providers to follow in installing network wiretap traps.

According to the FCC, "It would be premature for the Commission to intervene in the ongoing process by which telecommunications standards-setting bodies, acting in concert with law enforcement authorities and other interested persons, are developing, are developing assistance capability standards."

The FCC also voted to allow telecommunications carriers the option of using "trusted third parties" to assist them in meeting CALEA obligations.

In addition, the FCC ruled that carriers are responsible for CALEA development and implementation and refused to adopt a national surcharge to recover CALEA costs.

"Congress has provided clear guidance in the plain language of CALEA, and we must read CALEA's requirements in a technology neutral manner," Commissioner Deborah Taylor Tate said. "Our action today is not expanding the reach of the statute, but simply clarifying our interpretation of the statute."

The FCC decision applies to facilities-based providers of any type of broadband Internet access service, including wireline, cable modem, wireless, satellite and powerline.

The decision also covers "managed or mediated" VoIP services. Non-managed IP services not covered by the ruling include peer-to-peer (P2P) instant messaging and voice software services that do not interconnect with the public switched telephone network.