Monday, May 14, 2007
May 14th is the official deadline for cable modem companies, DSL providers, broadband over powerline, satellite internet companies and some universities to finish wiring up their networks with FBI-friendly surveillance gear, to comply with the FCC's expanded interpretation of the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act.
Congress passed CALEA in 1994 to help FBI eavesdroppers deal with digital telecom technology. The law required phone companies to make their networks easier to wiretap. The results: on mobile phone networks, where CALEA tech has 100% penetration, it's credited with boosting the number of court-approved wiretaps a carrier can handle simultaneously, and greatly shortening the time it takes to get a wiretap going. Cops can now start listening in less than a day.
Now that speed and efficiency is coming to internet surveillance. While CALEA is all about phones, the Justice Department began lobbying the FCC in 2002 to reinterpret the law as applying to the internet as well. The commission obliged, and last June a divided federal appeals court upheld the expansion 2-1. (The dissenting judge called the FCC's position "gobbledygook." But he was outnumbered.)
So, if you're a broadband provider (separately, some VOIP companies are covered too) … Hurry! The deadline has already passed to file an FCC form 445 (.pdf), certifying that you're on schedule, or explaining why you're not. You can also find the 68-page official industry spec for internet surveillance here. It'll cost you $164.00 to download, but then you'll know exactly what format to use when delivering customer packets to federal or local law enforcement, including "e-mail, instant messaging records, web-browsing information and other information sent or received through a user's broadband connection, including on-line banking activity."
There are also third party brokers who will handle all this for you for a fee.
It's worth noting that the new requirements don't alter the legal standards for law enforcement to win court orders for internet wiretaps. Fans of CALEA expansion argue that it therefore won't increase the number of Americans under surveillance.
That's wrong, of course. Making surveillance easier and faster gives law enforcement agencies of all stripes more reason to eschew old-fashioned police work in favor of spying. The telephone CALEA compliance deadline was in 2002, and since then the amount of court-ordered surveillance has nearly doubled from 2,586 applications granted that year, to 4,015 orders in 2006.
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