On May 5, the DC Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments in a suit brought by EFF and a coalition of public interest, industry, and academic groups challenging the FCC's unjustified expansion of the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA). By forcing broadband Internet and interconnected voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services to become wiretap-friendly, the FCC ignored CALEA's plain language and threatened privacy, security, and innovation.
When Congress controversially passed CALEA in 1994 and gave the FCC powers to mandate backdoors in traditional telephony systems, it expressly exempted "information services" such as the Internet. Yet 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. On Wednesday, the FCC announced that these service providers would have to foot the bill -- an estimated $7 billion dollars for the universities alone.
The FCC completely failed to give the law enforcement petitions the "hard look" that the public deserves when massive government surveillance proposals are on the table. While the FCC's unfunded tech mandate will undoubtedly harm the public, the government made no showing that there was any need to extend CALEA to Internet services at all.
Indeed, just this past Monday, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts issued its annual wiretap report -- which 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.
Petitioners in American Council on Education v. FCC include the American Library Association, the Center for Democracy and Technology, Electronic Privacy Information Center, EDUCAUSE, Pulver.com, and Sun Microsystems.