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May 03, 2006

FCC Mandates VoIP Must Begin CALEA-Compliance within 90 Days

Robert Liu, Executive Editor

The Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday issued a multi-tiered order to all facilities-based broadband Internet access providers and interconnected voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) providers mandating, among other things, that carriers have 90 days to come into compliance with the security requirements needed to implement the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA).
In addition, the FCC (News - Alert) decided against the adoption of a national surcharge to cover CALEA costs, instead concluding that the carriers are responsible for CALEA development and implementation costs.
Enacted in 1994, CALEA requires carriers to have all the resources needed for lawful intercept of communications (wiretapping) to combat crime and protect national security. Acting on requests from law enforcement agencies, the FCC last year extended the scope of CALEA to VoIP and broadband service providers setting May 14, 2007, as the deadline.
Today, the FCC reaffirmed that deadline applies to all facilities-based providers, stating that it give providers “sufficient time to develop compliance solutions.” Applying the same compliance date to all providers will eliminate any possible confusion about the applicability of the deadline, avoid any skewing effect on competition, and prevent migration of criminal activity onto networks with delayed compliance dates, the FCC said in its press release.
“Enabling law enforcement to ensure our safety and security is of paramount importance,” FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said in a separate statement. “Last August, the Commission took an important step forward by concluding that VoIP and facilities-based broadband Internet access providers have CALEA obligations, giving law enforcement the necessary tools to keep pace with rapid technological change. Today’s Order provides further clarity to carriers and other new technology service providers regarding the implementation of their law enforcement obligations.”
The current CALEA proceeding was initiated in response to a joint petition filed by the Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Drug Enforcement Administration in March 2004. These parties asked the commission to address several issues so that industry and law enforcement would have clear guidance as CALEA implementation moves forward. 
In its latest order, the FCC is permitting carriers to turn to turnkey solutions from third-party vendors such as SS8 Networks, which recently extended lawful intercept capabilities to the IP Multimedia Subsystem (News - Alert) (IMS) architecture. However, the FCC made it clear that, if a carrier chooses to use the third-party option, it remains responsible for ensuring the timely delivery of call-identifying information and call content information to law enforcement agencies.
With regards to a national CALEA surcharge, FCC commissioners determined that it would not serve the public interest to implement a national surcharge because such a mechanism would increase the administrative burden placed upon the carriers and provide little incentive for them to minimize their costs.
Reaction to today’s order was swift. The National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA (News - Alert)) and CableLabs, the industry’s research consortium, issued a joint statement:
“Cable has long supported efforts to provide appropriate legal assistance to law enforcement agencies, while addressing subscriber privacy and security, as law enforcement agencies seek to apply U.S. laws to new technologies and services. Cable was among the first to develop means to accommodate legitimate law enforcement needs with respect to Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services even before the FCC determined that CALEA applied to cable's VoIP services. In addition, CableLabs has been working with the FBI and others on a similar accommodation with respect to cable modem services. Today's FCC action is a logical next step in setting CALEA compliance ground rules as they apply to broadband services. CableLabs and the cable industry look forward to addressing any unresolved issues involving the application of CALEA to cable modem service consistent with the customer privacy rights embodied in that statute.”
Robert Liu is Executive Editor at TMCnet. Previously, he was Executive Editor at Jupitermedia and has also written for CNN, A&E, Dow Jones and Bloomberg. For more articles, please visit Robert Liu's columnist page.

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