July 24, 2006 | By Derek Slater

Administration Laughs at CALEA, Proposes to Eviscerate Law's Compromise

After a petition from the FBI and other federal law enforcement agencies, the FCC ruled last year that companies like Vonage and private institutions that provide Net access must redesign their networks to facilitate wiretaps. By forcing broadband Internet and interconnected voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services to abide by the controversial Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), the FCC ignored the statute's plain language and threatened privacy, security, and innovation.

The FCC ruling has been challenged in court by EFF and others and may end up before the Supreme Court. But the DOJ -- apparently tired of our lawsuits and hoping to avoid such suits in the future -- has now proposed draft legislation to codify and expand the FCC ruling. Read on to learn more about how you may soon be forced to finance this unnecessary expansion of government surveillance.

The proposed legislation would force myriad services to become wiretap friendly. According to the Administration, the proposal would "confirm [CALEA's] coverage of push-to-talk, short message service, voice mail service and other communications services offered on a commercial basis to the public," along with "confirm[ing] CALEA's application to providers of broadband Internet access, and certain types of 'Voice-Over-Internet-Protocol' (VOIP)." Many of CALEA's express exceptions and limitations are also removed. Most importantly, while CALEA's applicability currently depends on whether broadband and VOIP can be considered "substantial replacements" for existing telephone services, the new proposal would remove this limit.

By itself, this expansion of CALEA is bad enough for your privacy. But the bill gets even worse -- the law's existing privacy protective provisions are "clarified" so that they do not "override [the carrier's] ? primary duty" to help law enforcement spy on you. Furthermore, carriers will be forced to temporarily store your data stream and allow law enforcement agencies to analyze it on their own time. In other words, we are supposed to trust the government with all of our online interaction and hope that they only isolate the right packets.

And who's going to foot the bill for modifying networked services? You are. Service providers will bear the considerable costs of purchasing and implementing surveillance-ready network technologies, and those costs will inevitably be passed on to customers.

Contrary to what the law enforcement has said, there's no need for this bill. The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts' annual report revealed that only 8 court orders for Internet wiretaps were issued in 2005, down from 12 orders in each of the years 2003 and 2004 -- and the report contains no indication that law enforcement had any problems in conducting these electronic surveillances.

With your support, EFF will continue to oppose this dangerous and unnecessary bill.

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