RealTime IT News

Wiretaps For VoIP

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is expanding the reach of U.S. wiretapping laws to wireline broadband providers and Internet telephone companies.

In an order issued Friday, the FCC gave the providers 18 months to comply with the network wiretap accessibility rules of the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA).

Previously, CALEA applied only to traditional telecommunications carriers, such as incumbent Bells and wireless firms. The advent of Voice over IP , however, raised national security concerns at the Department of Justice (DoJ) and the FBI.

The DoJ petitioned the FCC to extend CALEA to new advanced services to expand CALEA to airline broadband.

"Although I believe that new technologies and services should operate free of economic regulation, I also believe law enforcement agencies must have the ability to conduct lawful electronic surveillance over these new technologies," FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin said.

The FCC ruling was hardly surprising. Since launching an inquiry into VoIP services more than a year ago, the agency promised a light regulatory touch but said it was likely providers would have to comply in some fashion with CALEA.

"There is still more work ahead of us," Martin said. "In the next few months, we intend to issue a subsequent order that will address other important issues under CALEA, such as cost recovery, standards and enforcement."

Congress passed CALEA almost 15 years ago with no anticipation of advanced services, such as VoIP. The law specifically applies to telephone networks and exempts what the FCC classifies as "information services," such as cable- modem broadband.

Friday's FCC ruling re-interprets CALEA to include wireline broadband and VoIP.

"Expanding CALEA to the Internet is contrary to the statute and is a fundamentally flawed public policy," Kurt Opsahl, an attorney for the privacy advocacy organization Electronic Frontier Foundation, said in a statement.

According to Opsahl, the FCC's action will force VoIP providers to build backdoors into their systems that hobble "technical innovation by forcing companies involved in broadband to redesign their products to meet government standards."

FCC Commissioner Kathleen Abernathy said further congressional action to clarify the FCC's decision is necessary. In her official comments on the vote, Abernathy predicted "some might not read the statute to permit the extension of CALEA" and litigation was as "inevitable as death and taxes."