EFF and Others Petition to Stop 18 Month Countdown to Internet Backdoors

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the Center for Democracy and Technology, and representatives of industry, academia, librarians and others today filed a joint request for a stay with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), arguing that the Commission has been "unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious" in demanding that broadband Internet access providers and interconnected Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) providers include backdoors for wiretaps in their services. The stay requested that the Commission should either postpone its Spring 2007 "full compliance" deadline for implementing these taps, or halt the requirement entirely.

EFF, CDT, and other groups have already petitioned the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to overrule the FCC's September 23rd ruling extending the 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) to cover broadband Internet access and Voice-over-IP (VoIP) service providers. Under the ruling, companies like Vonage and private institutions that provide Net access, such as universities, have 18 months to redesign their networks to be wiretap-friendly, but neither the ruling nor the FCC have been willing to specify what is required.

"The FCC has distorted an already dubious law designed for telephone services in order to reach Internet providers and private networks," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Lee Tien. "They have plainly overreached their authority in requiring internet providers to design systems that make surveillance of the public easier and we are confident that the courts will agree. But in the meantime the FCC deadline has not been moved and no one knows what CALEA compliance means on the Internet. The Commission refused to say, the FBI has been playing coy, and the rest of us just don't know. The result is a nonsensical deadline that forces companies to begin compliance without knowing what is required of them, or whether CALEA even applies to them, all happening in the shadow of a strong claim that the FCC does not even have authority to do this at all. The FCC needs to call a timeout until it knows what it wants, and seriously reconsider whether it has the authority to demand it."

CALEA, the controversial law passed in the early 1990s that provides the FCC with powers to mandate backdoors into traditional, centralized telephony systems, expressly exempted information services such as the Internet. At the time of its drafting, Congress was convinced by EFF and other privacy groups that such backdoors would endanger privacy and security, strangle innovation, and be technologically burdensome to implement within the Internet's decentralized architecture. The September FCC ruling claims, contrary to this plain intent, that CALEA now applies to broadband ISPs and Internet telephony.

Parties supporting the petition include the American Library Association, Association for Community Networking, the Association of College and Research Libraries, Champaign Urbana Community Wireless Network, Electronic Privacy Information Center, Pulver.com, Sun Microsystems and the Texas ISP Association.

Copy of the Stay Request: